Figuring out how to make artificially glowing coals and a branding iron was tricky, but I eventually learned that I could create fake embers that looked realistic by embedding RGB LED strip lights in spray-insulation foam, painting the tops of the foam flat black, and then adjusting the knobs to create a flickering ember-colored light effect.
I also made this branding iron (and a larger pile of artificial coals.) The branding iron was made by using a very powerful flashlight as the handle to light a heat-formed flourescent plastic iron.
A typewriter needed to type on its own in a ghostly manner, so I cut a hole in the desk and attached steel rods to the internal mechanism of the typewriter so that the keys could be operated from below. I then spent a couple hours under a desk typing out ghost messages as the camera rolled!
…and a beer bottle needed to break to reveal a knife inside, so I learned that breakaway bottles can be cut open and then glued back together if one has patience and a steady hand. I cut the bottle open with a fine x-acto saw and then glued it back together with super glue.
I also needed to make a “hot-dog-sized-coffin.”
…and someone needed to dispense grape soda from their mouth, so I bent some automotive brake line to form a hidden pipeline (here’s a test:)
…and someone needed to swallow some dynamite, so I made a few different sizes of the prop to help create the illusion that the dynamite was being swallowed.
I made lots of body parts of all sorts for the second season of The Heart, She Holler, but the biggest challenge was making an edible hand that David Cross’s character needed to run through a deli-slicer – and then eat the slices.
I started by fashioning a plastic cap that would serve as the attachment point for a gelatine hand, and also as a protective shield to keep the actor’s real hand far away from the rotating blade of the deli slicer. I used my hand to make a mold, and then the hand was cast in reddish gelatine with chunks of grapefruit mixed in to make it look a bit more meaty. This hand was then dipped in skin-colored gelatine to create a layer that looked like the actor’s skin.
I also cast silicone lips and modified some fake eyes to be attached to this real-life cow heart:
…and made some fake teeth look a bit more rotten:
(unintentional pun. I’ll leave it there.)
I cast molds from the side of my head out of alginate many times to make all of these fake silicone ears:
…and one day at work, we misplaced all of our skeleton hands, so I made a foot into a hand. We found the hands before shooting started that day, but the director used the modified foot anyway.
One of the most fun props I’ve ever made was a basketball-sized tumor that needed to smoke a cigarette while on camera – making the end of the cigarette ember glow red and then puff out a plume of smoke. I did this by first getting an old basketball and using some fittings and sealant to attach a 1″ vinyl hose to a hole in the ball.
Then I cut a hole in the opposite side of the ball that was the same size as the neck of a hot water bottle. The hot water bottle was placed inside the ball so that it would act kinda like a lung does the human body – expanding and contracting due to the change in air pressure.
I made a hand-operated air pump to force air into and out of the ball, and then made a fitting that attached to the hot water bottle’s neck which would hold both a cigarette and a one-way air valve salvaged from a fancy dust mask – the idea being that air (and smoke) would be drawn in through the cigarette and collect inside the hot water bottle, and then smoke would be blown out through the one-way valve. Here is a video of the test:
Bleh! It worked as planned, but it made our workshop smell like Marlboroughs.
And here is an image of the finished tumor – with a covering made out of cling wrap, paint, and liquid latex:
I made many more tumors of all shapes and sizes for the show this season – here are a few:
It seems like the second season at The Heart, She Holler involved lots of blood and guts. Gallons and gallons of blood and heaping armloads of guts.
I worked with Courtland Premo when we were tasked with making pies erupt with blood and guts, eventually settling on pressurized tanks that forced fake blood mixed with chunks of bananas and a bunch of other gross stuff through some thick vinyl tubing. Here’s a video of one of our tests:
We also worked together to create a bleeding diary (a tube was hidden within the book’s binding and then pierced.) Here’s a video showing our test results:
…and then we made lots of guts. Below is a photo of one bucketload. I used twine dyed blue or red to make veins and arteries, and then mixed in some kinda-coagulated gelatine:
One of the main concentrations of this past season at Sesame Street was Art, so I had quite a bit of art supplies to create!
Oscar the Grouch wanted to paint himself a big gloppy painting, so I made some fake paint squeeze bottles for Oscar and the other puppets – they can’t get their fur near any real paint. I also made a great big pile of icky paint out of some upholstery foam and latex.
I made a package of smiley markers too:
…and Baby Bear wanted to make art …out of porridge. I dyed some oatmeal with different colors, and Pete Ortiz and I carefully glopped colorful oatmeal goop onto our canvasses to make images for the show – the images made from wet oatmeal were meant to slide off of the canvasses on camera, so I don’t have any photos of those, but I do have some pictures of the images I made from a variety of dried seeds (I needed to wash the wasabi off of some wasabi peas since I couldn’t find any dried green peas!
This year, I was nominated for an Emmy along with the rest of our Art Department team at Sesame Street (Bob Phillips, Pete Ortiz, Keith Olsen & Rickey Boyd) for an “Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction / Set Decoration / Scenic Design” Emmy. I got to bring my dad along to the awards ceremony and we ran into a few friends that I wasn’t expecting to see, and had fun playing the “guess who plays a villain in a soap opera” game.
I modified a wheelchair for a skit on Amy Schumer’s show. The actress needed to fit her legs into a box below the seat and have false skinny legs hinged onto her lap. The box below the seat is made from painted plywood and padding, and the legs are latex-skinned foam with “bones” made from wooden dowels. This was tricky to build because the actress (Booker Garrett) was much more tall than I was expecting!
I made two new cereal boxes to place on the shelves of Hooper’s Store. When I was pasting new labels onto the old cereal boxes, I discovered that the cereal in the box had expired in 1999! We’re at work right now preparing for Season 44 – there are so many details that need to be refreshed.
The magazines for Hooper’s Store were getting kinda ratty, so I made a few new issues to add to the shelves and spruce the place up in preparation for season 44. I was using random photos from my camera’s memory card, hence the odd topics – like “Quackers,” the magazine for ducks who like to eat crackers, and “Pierogi Party,” a childrens’ magazine all about dumplings.
I designed a menu for an episode of Sesame Street where Cookie Monster auditions to join the Cookie Connoisseur’s Club, led by David Hyde Pierce as “Commander Chiphead.” The menu features such treats as snickerdoodles and shortbread and crystallized ginger cookies.
Here is a clip from the episode:
After a break between seasons that was long enough for me to complete a masters degree (Museum and Exhibit Design at FIT,) Sesame Street is going back into production, and I’ll be returning to make props and graphics for the show from now until the season wraps up in the middle of December.
I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces, both human and puppet, and spending time making things out of construction paper and glitter. Luckily there are a few “dark weeks” in the schedule to allow time for me to put the finishing touches on my portfolio and compile a list of exhibit and museum design companies that will be receiving resumes. If you have any suggestions of places that might be a good fit, please let me know!
My desk is just how I left it!
I needed to make a last-minute Halloween costume, so I glued together this mask from an old cardboard box, feathers leftover from a stork puppet I made a while back, and some felt, pipe cleaners, and – of course – a handful of plastic googly eyes.
I modified two trash cans with seats and little wheels so that they could compete in a slow and sneaky race in Central Park.
This prop was used in an Australian show called “Hamish and Andy’s Gap Year.”
I made this giant baby carriage so that a grownup could fit inside. It uses heavyweight plywood, BMX wheels, and welded steel to support a big person. Katie Akana and Jessie Voris handled the fabric and upholstery, And Katie also served as test pilot for a race down the hallway of the woodshop.
This prop was used in an Australian show called “Hamish and Andy’s Gap Year.”
The florist’s storefront on Sesame Street needed some dressin’ up, so I made this sticker for their window, along with some stickers for non-existent credit cards.
Well, this one was a challenge. I needed to make a pair of artificial hands shaped like beer cans. Also, the cans needed to be remotely filled with beer so that the actor could drink from them. Also, they needed to explode as if they were shot with a bullet. Also, they needed to spray fountains of blood.
I needed to cut the cans open so that I could fit a plastic tube that I could use for my pneumatic hardware. Also the finish needed to be sanded off of the cans so that new labels could be applied.
Jason Singleton helped me to rig these cans up to a couple of vegetable-sprayers (filled with alternately O’Doul’s and fake blood) and lots and lots of pneumatic hose.
This foam sword pops out of a coffin and stabs someone! Since we couldn’t fit a whole sword in a coffin, and we couldn’t stab anyone for real, I made the sword in two halves.
The front half to pop out of the coffin (I rigged it to operate pneumatically,) and the hilt, which has a flat base to attach beneath a hole in the actor’s clothes. The blade is made out of silver-painted foam, and I was able to get a serrated effect by wiggling the razor blade as I cut. The hilt was made out of a goofy old gold lame’ belt, which I brushed with a light coat of brown acrylic paint.
I made this magically-opening walnut for the Adult Swim mini-series “The Heart, She Holler.” It works in a way that is similar to the old springy toy animals made out of beads that droop when you press on their plastic base.
For my version, I made a new base out of plastic tube, springs, and washers. Next I carefully cut a walnut into quarters and made tiny wire hinges so that it would flop open when the spring was discreetly pressed. It is almost impossible to get the meat out of a walnut without breaking it, so I needed to epoxy mine back together!
I was called in as a Production Manager to help out with the workshop on a Project Runway spinoff called “Project Accessory.”
The show needed someone to help organize and upkeep all of the tools and materials required to keep their team of designers busy. It was my first time working on the production end of things, and it was pretty fun! There was such a variety of techniques happening on the show – jewelry, sewing, painting, casting – the cast members all had their own specialties, and it was a challenge to keep everyone supplied.
It reminded me of my days back in the Parsons School of Design product/furniture shops – except if EVERY DAY was the day before finals!
I drew these pictures for Sesame Street – Prince Charming and a Princess involved in their day-to-day activities.
It appeared in an episode where an apple ipad was used for the the first time on the show.
Someday many years from now, my grandkids will ask me “Grandpa, were you ever a television robot star?” And I will be able to honestly tell them “Yes children, I was an EVIL television robot star.
I built this robot out of all sorts of odds-and-ends. A funnel, bucket, two mini plasma spheres to make a head, and two wheelbarrows to make a body. The legs are made from wiggle board and plywood, and then I attached a bunch of wires and junk circuit boards… with plenty of silver paint to make things look futuristic.
Courtland Premo made a remote control base for the robot by dissecting a remote-control golf bag carrier.
It gets very hot in a robot costume!
I built this machine to sequentially shoot a contestant in the toes with rubber bands.
The mechanism works with screws which are placed around the barrel of a crank-operated winch every few degrees. As the crank is turned, the rubber bands fire off one-by-one.
I built this five-passenger bike by cutting apart and welding together the parts from three tandem bikes, and adding a bit of black gas piping where I needed straight tubing. It actually worked too, and I was able to take it for some wobbly rides in the studio! (Though the rear seat was responsible for shifting gears, since my cables weren’t long enough.)
Inflatable hot water bottles were added to make exploding seats (by Jason Singleton and Jessie Voris, I think)
The second in a series of swingsets that made me feel bad!
I created a swing out of heavy black rubber to hold a contestant so that their knees would graze against a carpet as they swung, getting a nasty case of rugburn in the process.