Props & The Essence of Immersion

By Juan Pablo Rendón García

What does a sign prohibiting dogs have in common with a can of evaporated milk? How about a typewriter and a volleyball? Restaurant menus and a thoroughly destroyed wall? Well, the relationship between them (as I am sure you are dying to know) here is that they are all movie props.

These carefully and meticulously designed film replicas or creative creations help us to immerse ourselves in a story and create the suspension of disbelief – which is paramount to the plot of any movie and which serves to capture you and to disconnect you from the real world just for a few hours so you can step into another one.

Annie Atkins, who has been working in the film industry for years, specializing in graphic art for filmmaking, has put together a beautiful book- inside and outside – exploring the wonderful world of props for filmmaking, alongside gorgeous pictures and amazingly detailed insight into what comes into the creation of these pieces.

These props make a secondary function, and that is to fully embrace the era or the context in which the movie takes place, as we can see with the props in “A Bridge of Spies”, which takes place in the middle of the cold war. It´s a movie about the moment in which a Soviet spy is discovered in the U.S and an American plane is shot down in the USSR. Both countries have prisioners and they want to exchange them. This setting at the end takes us to the divided Germany. In this scenery we can see how props take the form of food items, which would be smuggled by Western Germans to their friends and family who were in the Eastern side. Just by looking at the pictures you can see how much effort was put into these props, how every little detail in them is perfect and how much passion was put into them. Mind you; these replicas are shown only seconds on screen time, which makes the work of the artists and designers that much more spectacular and admirable, because their search for detail is truly unbelievable.

These replicas also serve to make locations realistic and in other cases to make characters! And if you doubt it just take a look at all the stop-motion movies out there, where every little piece in the figures is made with minor details and design. It is also all created by hand, just like a replica would. We can see this in the movie “Box Trolls”, where there is even a sketch for the art on the boxes the trolls wear. Another character who is a replica might be the world’s most famous volleyball, which appeared in “Cast Away”. I am talking about Wilson, the ball which Tom Hanks talks to almost the entire movie. This example is another way in which we can see how replicas are not only static pieces of craftmanship, but help actors develop themselves on stage and even reach amazing performances. 

If you want to find out more about the design of props or the history behind some of them, I would recommend you the book Designing Graphic Props For Filmmaking by Annie Atkins, which gives some insight into the creation of these fantastic pieces.

Fake love letters, forged telegrams, and prision escape maps: Designing graphic props for filmmaking by Annie Atkins Phaidon. All above images C Phaidon