The 100 Greatest Props in Movie History, and the Stories Behind Them
At a time in history when details go painfully overlooked, we slid movie history under a microscope to honor the simple joy of a perfect prop.
They're found on dusty warehouse shelves; buried under flea market knick-knacks; Googled, Ebayed, begged for; commissioned from blacksmiths, painters, and model makers for one-time use; and constructed out of whatever $5 can buy at the local craft store. They are sketched out, improvised, or placed in scenes by the fate of logic, existing to serve the performances or action around them. But while iconic movie props make us laugh, gasp, scream, and/or sit in absolute silence, they rarely start iconic; as a property master will tell you, the best on-screen objects go unnoticed, silently winning you over with truth.
Well, call us obsessives, but we couldn't help but notice. At a time in history when details go painfully overlooked, we slid movie history under a microscope to honor the simple joy of a perfect prop. And knowing every design choice big or small has an origin story, a past that ensured the movie around it would stick around for the future, we tracked down the stories of how they were made, from the people who made them.
We defined "prop" like they do on the set of a major motion picture: any object that a character interacts with during the action of a scene. We tried to be strict about it; on this list you won't find Jason's mask (costume), the time-traveling DeLorean (vehicle), Genie's lamp (animated "prop"), or Kermit the Frog (technically puppet, but not, in context) on this list. You will find props that teeter on the edge of rule-breaking and the inevitable exclusion of your personal favorite in-bounds pick (the red violin from The Red Violin was this close). Our investigation saw us come up short on our favorite filmmakers, finding regions with disproportionate amounts of great props -- the US loves its stuff -- and defining what "iconic" truly means (our verdict: a combination of purpose, ingenuity, and legacy).
So with that, these are the 100 greatest props from movies, in our estimation, and in their creators' words.
100 - 91 | 90 - 81 | 80 - 71 | 70 - 61 | 60 - 51 | 50 - 41 | 40 - 31 | 30 - 21 | 20 - 11 | 10 -1
Research and reporting: Kristin Hunt, Dan Jackson, Kristen YoonSoo Kim, Sean Fitz-Gerald, Matt Patches, Alex Suskind, Scott Weinberg
Copy editor: Pete Dombrosky
Production assistant: Eliza Dumais
Illustration: Jason Hoffman
Motion graphics: Evan Lockhart
Special thanks: John Sellers, Anna Silman, Lauren Leibowitz, Anthony Schneck
Dedicated to Simon Sayce
100. Big Ern's bowling ball, Kingpin (1996)
Peter Farrelly, director: "We shot most of the bowling stuff in the Pittsburgh area. There are tons of old bowling alleys around Pittsburgh -- in the Midwest, they bowl! But they'd never been changed, so they were just beautiful. Every town had one!
"We were scouting for the bowling alley and there it was, on a shelf. I said, we have to get his for Big Ern, so we bought it from them. When I first saw it, it looked like art, man. But [Bill Murray] did bowl with it, of course. The minute we handed it to him he was just tickled. And there was only one ball. Now it lives in Kings Alley in Boston, Massachusetts. They have a Kingpin wall."
99. The mockingjay pin, The Hunger Games (2012)
Dana Schneider, jewelry designer: "I could tell even before I was contacted [for the movie] that that design really struck home with a lot of the readers. That's one of those things that you're almost afraid to take on, because you just know how much people care. But I always like a good challenge.
"There were a lot of technical things that had to be worked out, [like] getting the scale right. Because they were in the [book] illustration, I really needed to get the feathers just right. Getting the arrow to float free in the beak. [To carve the bird], I started with a very hard carving wax. By hand. No 3D modeling, no computer printing. The bird itself and ring are cast sterling silver. But for strength, the arrow ended up having to be made out of 14-karat gold. Silver's just too soft. Then it all gets gold plated.
"There's something about birds in flight. They've always had a history of hope and free spirit. I think that's why I originally starting carving birds in my own jewelry work. But a lot of it really just boils down to a sense of freedom. Then adding the arrow to it I think is interesting because you add that extra element of, I don't want to say self-defense, but fighting back. Without the arrow, it would just be a really pretty bird and you can draw whatever conclusions you want. But having the arrow in the beak definitely really makes it a symbol for courage, strength, all those good things."
98. The frogs, Magnolia (1999)
William Arnold, production designer: "Paul Thomas Anderson described the frog scenes as the occurrence of a natural disaster, one of many found in a book in Paul’s collection. This was to affect all the characters in the film and break into their reality; in a way, unifying them all. As I remember, it was [actor] Henry Gibson who enlightened us as to the frogs in The Bible. They were one of the plagues visited upon the Egyptians in Exodus 8:2. Look for the number 82 showing up throughout the film. It would be a good drinking game.
"We were initially going to use rubber frogs for most of the effects. Our special effects team created hundreds of them. We even tested a way to drop them into a scene. This was a conveyer belt and a trampoline suspend high above a parking lot to see how they would fall and what kind of coverage could be achieved. The results were disappointing. This led to a rethinking of the problem and, in my opinion, a brilliant new concept. We would physically create the effects on the environment when hit by frogs. Then add the frogs digitally falling into the effects. Splashes in a pool or moving leaves and branches would give targets to the digital effects team to add the frogs.
"For me, one of the most difficult pieces to achieve was the frog dropping through the skylight into Jimmy Gator's kitchen, hitting his gun, and starting a fire in the house. The house we used as a location did not have a skylight. There were many elements we had to mesh together for the scene to work. I’ll not reveal any more."
97. The brass balls, Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Jane Musky, production designer: "Props had many tryouts and ended up with the set Alec [Baldwin] was comfortable with. We all decided they had to be big enough and intimidating enough and brass, for sure, but not too big or small, as to be silly. The sound of them hitting is what sold the gag. The brass balls also had to fit in his briefcase with the steak knives. If I am remembering correctly there were some laughs at first [during shooting], but, with such a wonderful and skilled cast, once the scene clicked it was dead silent and serious.
"On Glengarry the prop master and I spent quite a bit of time developing the dressing and propping inside each salesman's desk since they were at these desks for days on end. Opening and closing drawers. Using the contents during filming. The first day the actors came to the set it was a thrill to see this incredible ensemble sit at their stations and spend about 20 minutes going through the drawers and file cabinets smiling. Each gave us a small list of additions and we were on our way. That office set lives in my memory as one of the great thrills of my design career."
96. The dental pick, Marathon Man (1976)
Guy Bushman, assistant property master (in a letter of provenance written for auction): "[Cinematographer Conrad Hall] wanted a white power cord for contrast on-screen. The real black power cord was hidden in Olivier's sleeve while a vestigial white cord was added for effect."
Jim Clark, editor (in Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing): "The sound effect of the drill was crucial to the effect we desired. As the drill came closer and began to go out of focus, we altered the pitch of the drill, as if it were boring into something hard. The sound continued until the camera panned to the white light when the drill stops and [Dustin Hoffman's] scream is heard. The out-of-focus image was created in the optical printer, as was the zoom into the white light.
"The astonishing thing about this scene is that it remains potently arresting while not being visually emphatic. Very little is actually shown. Originally there was another section that was much more graphic. I did suggest to [director John] Schlesinger that we should shoot some very close inserts of the drill touching the tooth. He did not think this was at all necessary but allowed me to shoot some material. I spent some time getting the special effects people to produce a whiff of smoke as the drill hit the tooth. I thought this was really good, which shows how insensitive I had become to the power of this sequence. The graphic inserts remained in the film for a long time and were there for the first preview without causing the audience to faint."
95. The hockey stick putter, Happy Gilmore (1996)
Perry Blake, co-production designer: "It was a totally fabricated prop. We started with the hockey stick, in terms of the size of it. The bottom part was, more or less, like a hockey stick, but we also wanted to make it flat and smooth. As far as I know, there wasn't anything like this that existed -- it's not like you could go online and buy them, and I don't remember anybody having them.
"We mocked them up and would bring them to director Dennis Dugan, and, you know, Adam is very involved in his movies, so he was testing them out and looking at them and deciding which one he liked best. We wanted to have one 'prove-it' shot that was like a 25ft putt, one where Adam actually made it. So the putter actually had to work.
"I remember the day we were shooting that scene, it was basically like, OK, we're just gonna sit here, and Adam's gonna shoot the ball from way back there until he makes it in. Everyone was betting on how many it would be: Is it gonna take him more than five shots? Is it gonna take him 10 shots? Finally, when he made it in, everybody went crazy. It was a lot of fun."
94. The fuzzy pen, Legally Blonde (2001)
Robert Luketic, director: "Amongst the most ludicrous things we talked about on the movie were the color of blonde hair -- what is blonde hair? -- the breed of dog (and when I met Bruiser that was very obvious), and then what this pen was going to look like. This pen was brought to my attention by my art department. My eye went immediately to the pink puffy ball. I had never seen anything like it. That was the pen you bring to the first day of Harvard Law. She did things on her own terms, in her own way and her own world. She wasn't going to conform. That pen said it all. And it's something the writers and I hear about all the time: 'The movie encouraged me to go to law school. Look at me, I can still be who I want to be.' Women say it was empowering and freeing. And [the pen] slapped me in the face. It was so apparent."
93. The mask-maker, Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Syd Mead, concept artist: "If you remember the TV show, at the end of the episode they strip off their masks on one of the core characters. In [J.J. Abrams'] mind he was like 'How did they get the mask? How do you know it's going to match the character they're trying to impersonate?' He gave me the task of designing a mask-maker to be used in the field in real time.
"The way you start, if you're going to make a mask that's going to be pulled over somebody's head, obviously it needs to be in the shape of the head. The head they used was actually a scan of Tom Cruise. So you open the cabinet and you slip a polyurethane mask over the head. The first pass -- that's going to be the laser, and that pours in minor skin details and pores. And the second pass is an ink jet printer. Also J.J. said it's carried around by people on the team, so I made it with a sort of military-grade look -- it looked like it had been used and abused. I gave J.J. the finished sketches [of the mask-maker] so he could hang it in his office."
92. The tripod blade, Peeping Tom (1960)
Michael Powell, director, in an interview with the BBC (1959): "I think that the camera is something very frightening. If you think that Peeping Tom's camera acquires such a personality that it becomes a source of terror like the lens, I'm extremely pleased because that is exactly what I feel myself. Since H.G. Wells, Arthur Clarke, and Ray Bradbury, they have all tried to think up frightening machines but it's very difficult to achieve. I don't think that there is anything more frightening than a camera, a camera which is filming and which is watching you."
91. Boy with Apple, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Michael Taylor, painter: "[Wes Anderson] kept sending me different images. Italian Renaissance paintings, but also some Germanic stuff, like Hans Holbein and Lucas Cranach. He had chosen the name of the artist: I was 'Johannes Van Hoytl,' which seemed to suggest to me a Dutch painter.
"I started off with that hand holding the apple, with the fingers up. I've always wanted to do that, because there's this painting of Henry IV's mistress with her sister. They're both nude and one sister is holding the other just like that, by one nipple. It's a very striking and strange image. I needed something that would be recognizably different, [so it wouldn't] look like just any other Renaissance imitation painting. I painted it in a private school, a beautiful old building in Dorset. The studio found the model. On and off I painted for four months. After about two months, Wes was starting to get a bit anxious about what it looked like. So I sent an image and it wasn't exactly what he wanted. There were a few things that got painted out. There was a bird skull on a pewter plate and a picture of a castle. We kind of simplified it. I have no idea where it is now. It's the funniest thing when you do paintings. You have a very intense relationship and then they go off into the world and have a life of their own."
Robin L. Miller, property master: "When that thing arrived in Berlin, it was so heavily crated it could have been a Rembrandt. It hung every day in Wes's apartment. When we shot it, we would send someone to go get it -- he loves his props. Then there was the other painting, Two Lesbians Masturbating. He wanted it to look like an Egon Schiele, in that style. And they found a kid at a [Wes Anderson-themed art exhibit]. They went from a portrait artist to a guy who was just a solid Wes fan.
"Now Boy with Apple was an original size, we see it on the wall, but (and Wes knew that we had to do this from the beginning) for all the scenes of it being run around and the wrapping being torn off, I made a copy of that that was a third smaller. You'd never know it. It had to fit under peoples' arms. Movie magic."
90. The alarm clock, Groundhog Day (1993)
Amie McCarthy-Winn, prop master: "It was the first [movie] that I ever prop mastered. I worked with really good people. I remember one thing that Harold [Ramis, director] said to me, and I'll never forget it. I had a 'show and tell' set up, where I lay out props. I'm walking him through the room and the minutiae of props, and I said, 'Is there anything I should know from you on what you'd like from my department?' He laughed and smiled and said, 'I just want the props to work.' I've never forgotten that. There's nothing else I want either.
"At a production meeting, they decided they wanted a digital clock, but there were issues with the lighting of it. So they went to a little older fashioned: the flip. So I went out to prop houses in California and got samples to show to Harold and the producers. I think we found 'the one' at a fair in a town outside Illinois called Sandwich, a once-a-month thing where everyone sells stuff. They ultimately say, 'I like this one,' and that was well and good, but I didn't have another in my back pocket. You need multiples. But we found one more -- I only had two originals -- and I deferred to another prop master for a referral for someone who could make multiples of the clock.
"I think I had eight to 12 of the clocks. There were the originals, and then there were clocks that I made that were rigged to simply go from 5:58 to 5:59 to 6:00. That was another couple I had in my back pocket. A prop maker makes molds of the real clocks, of all the pieces, they measure the numbers -- it's a big megillah. There was a remote control off camera and they'd count down and you wouldn't have to wait. I also had breakaway clocks that only said "6:00" and had junk inside.
"The most annoying thing to me was, before the movie came out, there were billboards for the movie with Bill Murray on one side, Andie MacDowell on the other, and a clock in-between, and it's a big clock with bells on the side. Who didn't talk to who? That's not the clock! But I had a great experience. We got the [continuity] in the town square down to a science."
89. The box of chocolates, Forrest Gump (1994)
Robin L. Miller, property master: "Bob [Zemeckis, director] loves Americana. He loves a retrospective feel. A movie we're doing now takes place in 2003 and still he wants the props to feel nostalgic -- we're not cutting edge 2003, but we're in the '90s. It's that kind of comfort.
"The box of chocolates had all the selections. Russell Stover Chocolates was an icon. There was the Whitman's Sampler… and I'm not sure why we didn't go with that. Maybe [Bob] didn't like the box. But Russell Stover's was emblematic. Everyone knew it. It didn't stand out, which is actually the best prop in the world.
"What's funny is the studio was adamant of getting the box of chocolates. When you wrap a [movie], everything gets logged in case they have to do reshoots. You give them all the documentation so they can remake it. I gave it to them, and five others, but I told them, you can buy this. That's so rare, actually. The box was the real thing, and hadn't changed in a long time."
88. Lemarchand's box, Hellraiser (1987)
Simon Sayce, special effects designer and maker (in Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II, 2015): "We know straight away that Clive wanted a Chinese puzzle box. But that would have been a bit boring, to just do a Chinese puzzle box. So I started looking at some ancient writings and symbolism from North Africa, China, and some of the ancient world as well, as well as old English mythology… As you were drawing these things, if there was a way to subtly put something in that didn't look repetitive, because although the box is symmetrical in many ways, there are details that stop it being symmetrical. [The torture instruments on the box] were designed to look like symbols. There are saber-y things. The inspiration for these came from an exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum of old surgeon instruments and instruments of torture. If you look at the photographs, you can see the link between this and that.
"The process of making the box starts with a piece of wood -- exactly 3-inch by 3-inch by 3-inch. There was some symbolism to the measurements. Three-by-three is a magic number… To color the box we used a wood stain. Mahogany mixed 50-50 with ivory and then alizarin crimson and a dark blue, maybe Prussian blue. The etching is highly delicate and had to be designed in such a way that, when the etching process took hold of the brass, it didn't fall to pieces. On the square boxes, it was relatively easy -- I just had to cut them out and apply them to the box, which I did with PVA… Once that was all dry, I used a matte polyurethane varnish that had to be applied one side at a time, then be allowed to dry, then you could turn the box over and do the other side. So six times that amount of time to dry, to do one box. I did 10 to 15 boxes at a time.
"The real problem we had was that, at the end of the day, it's not a mythical box, it's a film prop. It gets dropped and thrown and pulled out of pockets. There was always a risk of the etchings getting caught on a hand. So I was forever lying on the floor under the Cenobites and, as they dropped it, I would try to catch it and save myself another eight hours of work."
87. The Wonder Boy bat, The Natural (1984)
Barry Bedig, property master: "We made the bat from scratch. It took a long time. I had to go to a place that makes bats. Except for early bats from 1890, 1901, which are a little bigger, making a [period-appropriate] bat was the same as today. But I had hundreds of bats, and many of the specific bat. There's also a scene where the father makes a bat, and we just found out how they did it in the old days, and made the bat as a block of wood, then halfway finished, three-quarters of the way finished, then finally the finished product. I had a little boy on set write Wonder Boy in his handwriting. We copied that, made a stencil, then wood burned it into bat. They all had to be the same."
86. Zuzu's petals, It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Karolyn Grimes, actress (Zuzu): "I'm sure they threw it away. It was a flower! I know it was burgundy colored -- a really beautiful burgundy color rose. I remember that, but I'm quite sure it was thrown away. The movie wasn't a success when it came out so it wouldn't have been anything great to hang onto anyway. It was just a movie and no one thought it would ever become what it is today. No one knew. So all of the props were pretty much destroyed in the '50s. That's the way it goes. But this is one of the most beloved movies of all time now.
"It was something I never dreamed would happen. I never even saw the movie until I was 40. Now I live it, eat it, drink it, sleep it, and I have a wonderful time meeting people and traveling and sharing it. And, oh my goodness, they share with me their feelings and their thoughts about the movie and how it's helped them through life.
"Since 1980, It's a Wonderful Life has been a huge part of my life. Everyone remembers Zuzu's petals. When we actually filmed it, I saw Jimmy Stewart put the petals into his pocket. I'm sure [the director] Frank Capra shot it several times, and I don't suppose I was watching him put the petals in his pocket with each of the scenes that he shot, but he kept it in there. So I have to think he did it for a reason. I think that he put it in there because he wanted to show that Zuzu loved her daddy very much but she knew he wasn't perfect.
"It's an integral thread throughout the movie. When George Bailey is in the unborn sequence and he's downtown and it's all crazy down there and he jumps in Ernie's cab, he says, 'Hurry, Zuzu's sick.' So she's mentioned there and when he comes out of Martini's he looks for the petals and they're not there. It's a thread that runs throughout that unborn sequence. It showed how much he loved that little girl and how much he loved his family and how fortunate he was to have his family. So when he found those petals when he came back to the born sequence again, it was such a joy to him."
85. The ice pick, Basic Instinct (1992)
Dennis Parrish, prop master: "[Director] Paul Verhoeven wanted it to look like something [Catherine (Sharon Stone)] would own. It wasn't a lucite handle or a chrome handle. He wanted it to look deadly but expensive. It was the star of the movie. So I got every ice pick you could possibly come up with from everywhere. I sat down with Paul and we decided on one with an aluminum handle. We had to make it out of a wooden one we found. But I had aluminum ones, I had rubber ones, and then we made a couple where the blade would collapse inside the handle.
"In the opening sequence where Catherine is on top of Johnny Boz and going at him, I had an appliance we put on his chest made by a special effects house so that, when she stabbed him, blood would shoot out. We shot that scene for three or four days. On and on and on. Paul loved that kind of stuff. When we shot a still of a kid lying on the sidewalk we used three buckets of blood. Another time we were in an airport in Mexico and him and I were on either side of the camera throwing buckets of blood against the wall. So yeah, we had tubes running through the chest piece to shoot blood on Sharon. Then my daughter and I would take her off of Johnny and put her in a big tub and hose her off with a Hudson sprayer to get her cleaned up for the next take."
84. The gold chains, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988)
Greg McMickle, property master: "The premise of the joke was that people were dying and 'overdosing' on gold -- or 'overgold' as they called it. We were on a tight budget so I couldn't just go buy a bunch of gold jewelry, or even fake gold jewelry. It was more about sourcing stuff, going to hardware stores and finding lightweight lamp chains -- whatever appeared gold at hardware stores -- and then going to craft stores. There's quite a bit of a chain there that's actually plastic and has a gold plating on it. We also had to think about the actor lying there with all that weight on him because we wanted it to appear that it was too much. If it had been all metal it would've been too much for him to lay there with 40 or 50 pounds of metal on him. That was mainly how the sourcing went, just finding whatever I could find that was lightweight and flashy and not too expensive.
"[Keenen Ivory Wayans] was a first-time director. Very impatient and had no idea how things were sourced in the real world. We were shooting what they call splits, so we were going on at noon and finishing at one in the morning, and then he'd hand me a list of things he wanted the next day that were not in the script or we never talked about. So for the first four hours every day I had to do all this prep work and source stuff. I was only getting about four hours of sleep a night on that shoot because of the unrealistic demands of the director."
83. The plastic bag, American Beauty (1999)
Lynda Reiss, property master: "It was a very low-budget movie. A tiny budget, and I had a tiny portion of the tiny budget. When I talked to Sam [Mendes, director] about the shopping bag, he was very specific about it not having markings on it. No store name, no 'thank you, have a nice day' -- he wanted a plain, white plastic bag.
"Back in 1998, it was the early days for internet shopping. Now I do most of my prop shopping online, but back then it was yellow pages and finding things. I made calls to various manufacturers but the only way I could get one unmarked plastic bag was to buy 5,000 unmarked plastic bags. Even though it didn't seem like a lot at the time, it was still in the range of $500. Which with my $17,000 budget or about that, I couldn't afford it.
"The bag was always going to be filmed separately. Sam was going to take the video camera [that Wes Bentley used] and go out with the special effects guys with lawn blowers. It wasn't slotted in the schedule. So I started my prep and I said, I'll figure the bag out later. I'll figure the bag out later. I'll figure the bag out later. Towards the end of my prep, my assistant and I were in downtown LA and we're buying all sorts of stuff from all sorts of stores for all the characters. We came back to my house, and we're unloading my car, and we're piling all these bags on to the table, and right in the middle of the pile, is this white plastic bag with no markings. And I'm like, THAT'S THE BAG. We didn't know where it came from -- we'd been to 55 different places. The receipts just say 'item number whatever.' I have no idea where that bag came from, but it came to me. It came from the prop gods who knew I'd never find one otherwise."
82. Spaceballs: The Flame Thrower, Spaceballs (1987)
Dennis Parrish, prop master: "Mel [Brooks, director] wanted 'Spaceballs: The' everything. He left it to me to go crazy with. He loves creativity. I came up with about twice as much as was scripted, and the last was the flamethrower. It was the type of stuff you see at a store when you go to Disneyland or if you go to another state, like a Wyoming keychain or a Wyoming ashtray. Merchandising! Movies being all about merchandising. Sometimes they really are.
"[The flamethrower] was a weed burner and we made it a little bit more… powerful. But I got it out of a catalogue and adapted it to make it into a flamethrower. We were very careful with it, and Mel did it while on his knees playing Yogurt, which complicated it somewhat, but we rehearsed for awhile before we put the flame to it. He did it!"
81. The piano, The Piano (1993)
Andrew McAlpine, production designer: "I found the piano at a supplier of pianos and other instruments in London. At the time, Jane [Campion, director] wasn't imagining it to be a cable piano, which is what you see in the film. She had thought, the way she had written it, that it would be an upright piano. But the problem with an upright piano is that you've always got the back of the piano, which is very ugly. And you don't want to see the back of the piano. So the camera as it circles around our piano, the one in the film, you have this beautiful, beautiful instrument Harvey [Keitel] could be seen cruising around like a shark. It's a very erotic piece of musical instrumentation.
"I had to make four other replicates of the piano. The first one was when the Maori men have to go get the piano off the beach and carry it through the forestry to the house where Sam [Neill's character] lives. There was a piano that had to be built into the box in the canoe. The third piano, the one that went to Harvey Keitel's [home], was a silent piano because you can't have live piano to camera. Then the last piano was a steel-frame piano for when it's thrown off the boat at the end and has to sink down through the water. So it was a major, major logistical journey. I had a piano maker who could make repairs or look after the upkeep of the pianos, all the veneers. So you could, at any given time, do a close-up on the piano itself. If the film is called The Piano, you better be sure it looks pretty good all the time."
80. The snitch, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
Stuart Craig, production designer: "Like so many things in the Potter world, the concept is really all in the original text, in J.K. Rowling's description. She says the snitch is the size of a walnut. A golf ball is substituted in practice. It has fluttering silver wings, which must be completely hidden while at rest to achieve the small size. Gert Stevens was the concept artist who did the final illustration. Pierre Bohanna's prop making team made it… a really delicate piece of mechanical engineering. The wings were stowed in deep narrow channels curving across the surface, apparently surface decoration but secretly hiding the wings."
79. The ghost trap, Ghostbusters (1984)
Ivan Reitman, director: "Dan Aykroyd, who had done a treatment about the concept of Ghostbusters, met with me and Harold Ramis in Martha's Vineyard to break the story for a couple weeks. We always thought there was going to be some way that once the Ghostbusters actually froze a ghost with their proton packs, we were going to have to put it somewhere. Because it wasn't about killing ghosts; it was about trapping them and then putting them into a containment unit.
"I knew they couldn't hold the traps in their hands because they needed their hands free to hold their beam throwers. I just thought of what was then contemporary army stuff -- how things would hang off uniforms. So we knew whatever this device would be would somehow be attached to their clothing and then it could be released. I thought it would be visually funny that the trap would be thrown -- you know, I grew up in Canada, so curling was more popular, whereas it's kinda unheard of here -- like something with wheels underneath that would roll underneath where the ghosts were trapped. And then I thought you needed something right at your feet, because remote-control technology back then was not what it is now. I figured it was some kind of simple pneumatic device.
"The actual trap was made out of metal, and the flaps were maybe something a bit lighter. We were all sort of drawn to the simplest design of it, because it had to look like these guys all somehow built this. So it had to have a homemade, like in-the-garage-construction, look to it. Their backpacks and even their car all have that sort of design affect. [That aesthetic] turned out to be really effective, and I think it was one of the things that attracted audiences to to the movie. Everything was getting sleeker already, with science fiction stuff. It was the beginning of the Star Wars era. We wanted to design something that was totally opposite to that approach. And then for the beam, the inverted pyramid made sense because for something that pushed wide but came from a small source on the ground -- I just thought it would look beautiful."
78. The hula hoop, The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Joel Coen, director (in Joel & Ethan Coen: Blood Siblings, 2003): "We had to come up with something that this guy was going to invent that on the face of it was ridiculous. Something that would seem by any sort of rational measure, to be doomed to failure, but something that on the other hand the audience already knew was going to be a phenomenal success… What grew out of that was the design element which drives the movie, the tension between vertical lines and circles; you have these tall buildings, and then these circles everywhere which are echoed in the plot… in the structure of the movie itself. It starts with the end and circles back to the beginning, with a big flashback. The hula-hoop just seemed perfect."
77. The bicycle, Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Enzo Staiola, actor (Bruno) (in Working with De Sica, 2005): "Poverty was all around us, and I represented this poverty. That's how Italy was back then. People were hungry. The war had just ended. Losing a bicycle seemed like the end of the world. People had to pawn their bed linen. That's how it really was."
Suso Cecci d'Amico, co-writer (in Working with De Sica, 2005): "I thought it was absolutely essential to have an ending. An ending where he returns home and just closes the door didn't seem satisfactory to me. I thought, 'How are you going to tell the story? You have to tell what happens to the protagonist.' I got the idea of him deciding to steal a bicycle, since he sees so many of them around. It will stay in the child's memory his whole life, the terror at seeing his father about to be arrested."
76. The game board, Jumanji (1995)
Joe Johnston, director (in a letter of provenance written for auction): "Cast foam carry board[s were] used in scenes where the actors (usually Robin Williams) had to walk outdoors or move around in the set with the closed Jumanji game. The hero boards that were used for close shots were made of wood and were quite heavy. To reduce the risk of a hero board being dropped and damaged, a mold was made from one of the hero boards and reduced-weight carry boards were produced. There were also molded rubber stunt boards that were only used when an actor had to run or fall with a closed game board, or interact with it in some potentially dangerous way. As far as I know, there were at least two hero boards constructed, one with a false back to allow the magnetized movement of the game pieces. There were at least three carry boards produced. To the best of my recollection, one of the carry boards was destroyed in the scene where the house splits in two. There were four or more rubber stunt boards."
75. The horse-imitating coconut shell, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Terry Gilliam, actor-co-director (in The Pythons: Autobiography, 2003): "I don't remember much about writing. I just remember there was this whole scene [where the Knights of the Round Table were to have found the Grail at a 'Holy Grail Counter' at Harrods department store] that John and Graham wrote and that's gone. That scene in Harrods may have been the first thing that got us onto the medieval thing because ideas were just being thrown around, ideas were being dredged up from the bottom of drawers, old material. 'Oh God, what can we do?' Everybody did their research and started writing funny sketches. And then we started stitching them together so it looked there was a story there, but luckily the structure allowed for it — the gathering of the knights, we get them together, then we split them up and we have to get them back together. This is a perfect vehicle for sketches."
Terry Jones, actor-co-director (in The Pythons: Autobiography, 2003): "The coconut gag was the original gag that sparked the whole thing off. We did talk about having horses at one point and then we quickly dismissed it because we thought it be funnier not to and because we couldn't afford horses anyway."
74. The garden gnome, Amélie (2001)
Aline Bonetto, production designer: "The idea of the gnome is from [director] Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It appears in the first version of the script (written by Jeunet and Guillaume Laurent) and it’s in the storyboard drawn by Luc Delporte. I remember that I tried to find one before thinking about making one. I did not think I would find him. But one day I was in a garden shop looking for plants and suddenly I saw it. It was so obvious, like a thunderbolt. He had a wheelbarrow. By chance, as if he was waiting to be a star, there was a double in the store. I just had to repaint the face to strengthen his expression and remove the wheelbarrow!
"Later I thought I should have one more for some scenes with special effects but there was no gnome like him anymore, anywhere. The company had disappeared. This gnome was just there for Amélie. This is the kind of miracle that happens when you make movies! A few years ago this gnome has traveled to New York for an exhibition about cinema. Usually he stays in my living room. When he’s away, I really feel an empty space and I miss him."
73. The cronos device, Cronos (1993)
Guillermo del Toro, director (in an interview for the Cronos: 10th Anniversary DVD): "Strangely enough, [David] Cronenberg specifically is an acknowledged vital influence. He's a lifelong influence... We're not along the same lines but I think Cronenberg is the existentialist, whereas I'm the romantic. So we're a bit different. But for example The Fly is his most romantic film. There are parallels in the decomposition... [and] I think the film is very representative of horror films of [the '70s and '80s]. Horror films looked at things which I think were very interesting. In the '80s, the films are brutal. They reach a wonderful climax of the grotesque. The gore of the '80s will never be bettered. But at the same time, Cronos had a strange poetic flavor. In that sense, that was shared with some of Clive Barker's stories, which had a mixture. There's a beautiful sentence in a story called "The Sins of the Fathers." It's says, 'It affected her and touched her in a place deep inside where only monsters had touched her.' Of course in Barker's case, it was genital and literal, but the sentence was very poetic.
"The idea here was, in order to deconstruct the Catholic mythology, alchemy would be very useful. There are elements of vampirism in the Catholic communion, alchemical elements in the idea of transfiguration, the transformation of flesh into spirit. There are elements in all of that which I found very interesting. There were great monks who were great alchemists. There was one I liked in particular called Aurillac who constructed a metal head made of bronze, which answered certain questions asked of it. That influenced Cronos, the idea of the mechanical apparatus.
"The symbols on the device I designed together with a friend of mine who's a painter, José Fors. I designed the inside, he designed the front part and the back of it was designed by me and by a jeweler, Rubén Rivera. The idea for the front of the cronos device, the shape was the egg, which is a symbol of eternity and immortality, the scarab, another symbol of immortality, [and] the serpent swallowing its own tai in the coil which starts the device, another symbol of immortality. The design was to have elements which go down and go back up -- basically a Möbius strip drawn around the egg, giving you immortality. So the Möbius strip symbolizes infinity.
"It's all there in code. And I will be so bold as to say, with great enthusiasm, that Cronos and all the films I've made contain things which perhaps only have symbolic meaning for me. But they're hidden away in there for anyone who wants to see them. There are repetitions. In alchemy, and in symbolism, repetition is important. It's important to return to the same element to illuminate its meaning in the previous sentence or page. In fact, coded language is always based on repetition, so if anyone wants to watch them again, all of them in one afternoon, they'll see new stuff. That's what's nice about watching them."
72. The captive bolt pistol, No Country for Old Men (2007)
Keith Walters, property master: "They use those things to stun cattle, but I think this was a little bit of creative license on Cormac McCarthy's part that it worked like it did in the film. Basically the effects guy designed and built the little bolt part so they could have one that was really practical and could knock the locks out, and then, of course, one that was inert that they could put against someone's head. Then we searched different places to find an air tank and I happened to find two tanks taped together at a surplus store in Albuquerque. I bought those tanks and the guys loved them, so that gave us two of those. We got some hose and fit it together.
"For as iconic of a prop as it became, it was a pretty simple process. We needed something that was handheld and mobile enough that he could carry the tank and the bolt itself. No one really knew what it was. No one was particularly scared of it when he came out -- it wasn't like he was carrying a gun -- so he put it to the guy's forehead and killed him. I don't think anybody realized you could kill someone with it. That was part of the mystique of the whole thing: until he did it the first time you really didn't know what it was. It wasn't your conventional weapon.
"We took most of the descriptions from the book and used them. Especially with all the guns and things. I just went through the book and listed everything that Cormac described and that's why we used the shotgun with the silencer on it. We built that to his description, which was a silencer that 'looked like a beer can.' So, we tried to interpret his descriptions and make the props in the film as close to the book as we could get."
71. The Egg Man's egg box, Pink Flamingos (1972)
Vincent Peranio, production designer: "I believe [the late Paul Swift, who played The Egg Man], put that together. John [Waters, director] came up with it because it was in the script, but back then, everyone did everything. [The Dreamlanders] acted, we built sets -- everything. For instance, my brother [Ed Peranio] and I were inside the couch that rejects Mink [Stole]. We made the table collapse in that whole sequence with Divine in the house (which was John's house). Lots of cheap special effects. I also built the trailer then burnt it down. I think on Pink Flamingos I had a $200 budget. $175 went to the trailer. $25 went for paint and wood. Everything else was what we could find. We made things for the moment that we'd never need again. Although the baby crib that Edie sits in is currently the arbor for my garden.
"On Multiple Maniacs, [our previous film], we were just working with John, who was a friend who had a script. We'd shoot on the weekends since we had school or work. We dressed ourselves. David Lochary did the makeup before Dan Smith created the Divine we know from Pink Flamingos. Eventually we all found our place in John's hierarchy of film. Pat became his producer and casting person. I built Lobstora, [the giant lobster from Multiple Maniacs], in that movie, and that was the beginning of my career as a production designer, and eventually I'd do The Wire and stuff. None of us expected those movies, except maybe John, to go very far."
70. Reese's Pieces, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Jack Dowd, Director, New Products Development at Hershey Chocolate (in an exit interview for the Hershey Community Archives, 1991): "[Hershey's] had received a call from Universal Studios, and they said that Steven Spielberg was producing a movie called E.T., and they were going to be using Reese's Pieces. They had decided to use Reese's Pieces and it would play a featured part in the picture, and they would like us to cooperate by promoting the picture.
"We were concerned about a number of things [...] Steven Spielberg had great successes, but his last movie was "1941," a movie starring John Belushi, which was a total bomb. So we weren't sure whether this picture was going to be a success. The idea of an extraterrestrial creature was unusual and, therefore, risky. We wanted to know the plot, because we didn't want some 'Monster That Ate Chicago' type movie. We didn't want to frighten our consumers; we wanted to entertain them. I was told that this creature was lured into the house by Reese's Pieces. The vice president who talked to me said they had decided not to use M&Ms, so he said to his son, 'What would you use?' And his son said, 'Reese's Pieces.' He said he had never heard of Reese's Pieces, which is generally true. Adults didn't know as much about it as the children did.
"It looked like something that was worthwhile. We needed some promotion for our product. We said we would back it up with about a million dollars' worth of promotion, in consumer promotions, trade promotions, displays, in-store displays, using, featuring "E.T." In return, we would have an exclusive in the confectionery field for promotion and advertising. We could also use "E.T." for advertising, but we had to get their approval, of course, which was obvious standard procedure. There was no contract written at the time. It was written, sent to us later, and approved by our legal department. So we went along and produced the point-of-sale material, got a picture. We were going to offer a teeshirt that had a picture of E.T. We wanted a picture, and they sent us a picture of E.T. and the little boy. I proudly showed the picture at the staff meeting, and Earl [Spangler, Hershey's president] said, 'That is the ugliest creature I have ever seen in my whole life.' There's no answer to that. You just sit quietly and let the eruption die down.
"We arranged to have all the people that had worked on Reese's Pieces [...] come to a special showing at the Motor Lodge Theater [...] At the end, the screen went black and there was total silence. Nobody seemed to want to get off the mountain; they wanted to stay up there. And then there was enormous applause. So I ran out in the lobby to watch the faces of the people that came by. Many of them were tear-stained. And Earl, who is a very emotional man, came out and his eyes were quite moist, and I said, 'Is he still ugly, Earl?' And Earl said, 'Ah, he's beautiful.' And that was one of the high spots of the whole performance."
69. The tennis racket, The Apartment (1960)
Jack Lemmon, actor (Baxter) (in Lemmon: A Biography, 1975): "Working with Billy [Wilder] I began to understand 'hooks' -- those little bits of business that an audience will remember, sometimes long after they've forgotten everything else about the picture. The key was a 'hook.' For ten years after that film, people would still come up to me on the street and say, 'Hey Jack, can I have the key?' Another was where I strained spaghetti, using a tennis racket for a colander… Today, one of the first things I look for in a script is the hook, that little audience-grabber."
Billy Wilder, writer-director (in Conversations with Wilder, 1999): [The spaghetti-strained-through-the-tennis-racket idea in The Apartment began with an innocent comment by co-writer Izzy Diamond: "Women love seeing a man trying to cook in the kitchen. Then we both set about trying to find the perfect situation that shows] how a man tackles a problem with a missing kitchen object. It was obvious that it was his apartment -- you know, he just never cooked. Or he just bought himself a sandwich or something, on the way home. But there I did not have a sieve, you know. So I don't know whether it was [Diamond] or it was me, but it came kind of spontaneously. For macaroni or spaghetti, we need a sieve, So I said, 'Let's have a tennis racket.'
68. Coma the Doof Warrior's guitar, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Matt Boug, salvage artist: "The guitar, 100% designed and created for the movie, came from the concept of music being used in war. The warlord character, Immortan Joe, needed a musician to rally his troops. Who better in the wasteland than a heavy metal guitarist? It was reminiscent of the helicopter sequence in Apocalypse Now, with the chopper pilots playing Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries.' It's symbolic of the corruption of power, a musical instrument being used to fight the oppressed.
"George Miller, the director, had given the project to sculptor Michael Ulman, who had been hired to help create objects for the film in a junkyard aesthetic. The theme of recycling and re-purposing objects was a major part of the design language -- making the absolute most out of the remaining stuff that was around was an essential part of life in a post-apocalyptic world. And who doesn't want a flaming guitar that can kill people? So Ulman created a version of the Doof guitar as a sculptural piece out of second-hand metal scrap. Some of the objects he used included car horns, trumpet parts, and a bedpan.
"My job, then, was to take the sculpture and make it durable for a year in the desert whilst being dangled from a truck in a sandstorm. It needed to function as a real guitar so that iOTA, the Doof actor, could play tunes onset for his warboy comrades. It also needed a fully working flamethrower. To make it all work, I needed to build a chassis for the guitar -- just like a car. I transplanted the electrics from a pre-existing double-necked guitar into the new Doof guitar chassis I built, and, after much swearing, bolted on the bedpan cover. I got an old guy in the slums of Namibia, Africa, who restored guitars, to help me with the electrics. He was a bit perplexed with the design: 'Do you play shit music with this?' he said, referring to the bed pan.
"Making the whole thing work musically was the hardest part -- getting the bridge distances and angles right so the guitar would stay in tune whilst being thrown around and left in the sun. But the day we finally plugged it into an amplifier and strummed the first notes of Chris Isaak's 'Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing' was a happy day indeed. iOTA complained a lot about how shit the guitar was, but everyone else fucking loved it and lost their minds over it."
67. The giant joint, Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke (1978)
Tommy Chong, actor (Anthony Stoner): "When Cheech and I were doing stand-up, we would mime a big joint. Like we'd mime everything -- we never had real props. For comedic response, I would pull out the biggest joint ever. But it was an imaginary joint. So when we did the movie, we could have the imaginary joint take form.
"The Paramount props department on Up in Smoke came up with that humongous joint. It was like tissue paper, only a little heavier. [It smoked] pretty horrible. We weren't using real weed, we were using an herbal mixture and it wasn't that tasty. They put a periscope through the windshield, so [the stunt driver] could see where they were going. But it looks like the car is filled with smoke. That wasn't Cheech and Chong, for sure. When it gets that smoky, I'm usually stopped somewhere. That big joint was like our trademark, and it still is. We've been on the road for years and especially since weed has been legalized, we have fans coming up and presenting us with giant joints all the time. And we accept them, too."
66. Billy the Puppet, Saw (2004)
James Wan, director: "Billy was built in my apartment back in Melbourne when I made the [original short film]. I made it from clay, ping-pong balls for eyes, and newspaper wrapped together -- all hidden underneath a cheap, kid's suit. Who the fuck makes suits for kids? Here's a morbid thought: they're either for weddings, events, or funerals.
"When Leigh [Whannell, writer] and I were gearing up for the feature, we thought we would get the Hollywood version, and it would be remade with animatronic and state of the art shit. But the movie was so low budget, the producers just said, 'use that again'!"
65. The hamburger phone, Juno (2007)
Steve Saklad, Juno production designer: "The hamburger phone was actually in the very first script that Diablo Cody wrote. She spec'ed out the phone and based it on recollections of her youth. We found an obscure Japanese online website that had them, and we only got one. It was shipped from China. We were shooting in Vancouver, and the customs impounded it, because it qualified as some toy, and there were restrictions on toys going from China to Vancouver at the time, so it was actually imported to the US, to Seattle, and then somebody drove it up to Vancouver to get it past the customs ban.
"Jason Reitman, the director, was super specific about what it should look like. It was one of the very first set-dressing items that we searched for when we were putting together Juno's bedroom. For about two weeks, our set decorator was sweating bullets until he found the thing that would please Jason. Jason was very much hands-on. Every single poster on the walls of Juno's bedroom were approved by Jason and some of them were ones that Jason required us to get clearance for and put on the wall. Then he shot it so you saw it. He had beauty shots of the phone and the walls of posters.
"I wouldn't say that there's one awesome moment of her picking up the phone for the first time -- it actually gets very little coverage in the movie. But that's the whole point of the hamburger phone: It's this inane kid thing crashing into a completely adult challenge, adult problem -- that's why it works so brilliantly: that's encapsulated in one piece of plastic."
64. The Little Tramp's cane, Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914)
Charlie Chaplin, actor (Tramp) (in My Autobiography, 1964): "I arrived in Los Angeles and ... took a busman's holiday and saw the second show at the Empress, where the Karno Company had worked ... [Director Mack] Sennett was shocked to see how young I looked. 'I thought you were a much older man,' he said. I could detect a tinge of concern, which made me anxious, remember that all of Sennett's comedians were oldish-looking men.
"I was to replace [Ford Sterling]. Sennett introduced me to him. Ford was leaving Keystone to form his own company with Universal. He was immensely popular with the public and with everyone in the studio. They surrounded his set and were laughing eagerly at him. Sennett took me aside and explained their method of working. 'We have no scenario -- we get an idea then follow the natural sequence of events until it leads up to a chase, which is the essence of our comedy.' This method was edifying, but personally I hated a chase.
"[The day after I finished my first picture, Making a Living,] Sennett returned from location. Ford Sterling was on one set, Arbuckle on another; the whole stage was crowded with three companies at work. I was in my street clothes and had nothing to do, so I stood where Sennett could see me. He was ... looking into a hotel lobby set, biting the end of the cigar. 'We need some gags here,' he said, then turned to me. 'Put on a comedy make-up. Anything will do.'
"I had no idea what make-up to put on. I did not like my get-up [in Making a Living]. However, on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small, and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small mustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression.
"I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on to the stage he was fully born. When I confronted Sennett I assumed the character and strutted about, swinging my cane and parading before him. Gags and comedy ideas went racing through my mind."
63. The eggs, Alien (1979)
Roger Christian, art director: "The eggs were made with grips underneath where you could pull and open them up. Everything in H.R. Giger's world is combined with female or male body parts, so the eggs had to look menacing and sensual at the same time. The membrane is a sheep's stomach -- I know, because I had to buy stuff from the abattoir all the time (or I'd get my buyers to go). To get that burst out, the only way to do it, Ridley [Scott] had to put on a rubber glove and put his hand up and chucked it out at the camera. That was the only way to get it to work. [The eggs] were heavy and there were only a few made practical. The rest were background ones, which they made a lot of."
62. The banjo, Deliverance (1972)
John Boorman, director (on the Deliverance DVD commentary): "In this first sequence of the film, there are the two cars with the canoes that come up to the filling station. There they encounter this boy who seems to be retarded. He plays the banjo. Ronny Cox, as Drew, with his guitar, play the 'Dueling Banjos,' a traditional piece. That was always written into the script. They demanded that I cut more out of the budget. I had an orchestra and composer in the budget, and I intended to use 'Dueling Banjos' as the theme running through the film. So I decided to dump the composer and orchestra and use 'Dueling Banjos' as the entire score. I spent two hours in the recording studio with a banjo-picker and a guitarist and we recorded the whole thing.
"We searched around for a kid who could do this in the local community, and we found this boy, who was actually quite bright, but because of the way he looked, he was treated as retarded by the community. Unfortunately, he couldn't play the banjo. So what I did was find another kid who could play banjo. If you look, the [fretting] hand is not his. There's another kid who's crouched behind him. We just made an extra sleeve into the shirt there. He's doing the strumming, but this other kid never got credit because we didn't want to reveal it."
61. Gristle gun, eXistenZ (1999)
Stephan Dupuis, special makeup designer: "I was told [the gun] was 'made of bones and it shot teeth.' You take that information and you go from there. I said to myself, 'Let's see, made from bone and there's some meat attached and it's served in a restaurant.' Poor Jude Law had to eat the gelatin that we attached to it and make it seem like it was chicken. Let me tell you: it was not. You could see he was turning green towards the end of the fifth take.
"But [Jude Law's character] assembles the thing and turns it into a gun. The psychotic waiter comes over, and Law shoots him in the cheek and part of his ear goes. Then the waiter goes berserk with the meat cleaver, and he shoots his face off. So we made several prop ones with the handle -- that you would assemble and click together -- for Jude. Then there was one that was rigged like a prop gun. It wasn't really shooting teeth but there was a loading zone for the teeth in there. And that was it. When he shoots his face off it was synchronized with the prop gristle gun, the mechanical one with the tubing that was hidden underneath. It was kinda a mask that I made for the guy with his last expression -- kinda screaming. There were different plugs in it and different chambers that were going to shoot all the goo and the blood. That was done with air pressure -- not with explosives because that was right against his face. So that's what you see in the movie.
"There were sketches I made and David [Cronenberg] approved them and then we went from there. I just bought a whole bunch of model kits basically. Human skeletons, cat skeletons -- you name it. And then I looked at the pieces and arranged them in a fashion with some plastic and fused them together and built it from those anatomy class skeletons ... It was a really cool concept. So bizarre. But then again, you know, that's David."
60. Mark's cue cards, Love Actually (2003)
Richard Curtis, director (in an interview with Elle, 2013): "When I get stuck on a script, in order not to get stuck, I write [the numbers] one through five on a piece of paper and come up with five ideas, so I can allow myself the option of choice. [I came up with] five romantic ideas for a man and a woman, and I went out to the four girls who were in my office. I told them, 'There's this guy, he's never told you he loved you. Which of these ideas are romantic and which are off-putting?' [I had ideas like] filling the courtyard outside her house with roses, and they went 'yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck,' for the first four. Then I had the idea of the Bob Dylan signs. The scene was selected by group research."
Barry Gibbs, property master: "Oddly, the cue cards on Love Actually were a no-brainer. It was so easy... as firstly it was scripted by Richard Curtis and with our set decorator and the graphics team. With our Set Decorator and the graphics team it was very simple."
59. The Kobayashi Porcelain mug, The Usual Suspects (1995)
Howard Cummings, production designer: "What I really didn't know until we started getting into it is that Bryan [Singer, director] wanted all the clues in the room. So we started thinking, What could these different things be? We'd all stand around and argue about what [Kevin Spacey's character, Verbal Kint] should look at.
"The cup, though, was the scripted centerpiece of it all… It was a breakaway mug. But they don't really hold coffee well, so we had to find a matching mug. I can't remember if we picked the mug based on what we could find in breakaways or if we actually had to make a breakaway mug. I didn't realize Bryan was going to do an ultra, ultra close-up. And there is no Kobayashi Porcelain. You can sort of see in the close-up that it's stamped on and I am sitting here cringing, going 'Nooo.' Getting it to break, I remember I had to break a few. It was coincidental that in the floor shot it broke looking the right way. But we had to break several so the name was readable. And that [mug] had to be real because you could see the edges of it."
58. The nunchaku, Game of Death (1978)
As detailed for Spink's "Bruce Lee 40th Anniversary Collection" auction: "Lee personally designed this iconic weapon to match his celebrated yellow and black Game of Death jumpsuit. Designed to deliver matchless combat sequences during Lee's electrifying nunchaku battle with senior student and co-star, Dan Inosanto, the design was conceived to facilitate the lightning-fast solo displays Bruce would deliver to camera. Unique amongst all Bruce Lee's nunchaku, the nunchaku is built from lightweight lacquered wood and the sticks are connected by a fortified cord. By requesting this design, Bruce ensured that the nunchaku would move with the maximum speed and fluency in his skilled hands."
Dan Inosanto, actor (Pasqual) (in the documentary I Am Bruce Lee): "In 1964, I introduced the nunchucks to Bruce Lee. At the time he thought it was a worthless piece of junk. When he moved to the LA area, I taught him how to use it. In three months he swung it like he'd be swinging it for a lifetime ... In the short time, every child was using this. It became a household product. Now it's outlawed in California."
57. The cup of water, Jurassic Park (1993)
Michael Lantieri, special effects designer (in the Jurassic Park feature Making Prehistory): "I was at work and Steven [Spielberg] calls into the office. He goes, 'I'm in the car, I'm playing Earth, Wind & Fire, and my mirror is shaking. That's what we need to do. I want to shake the mirror and I want to do something with the water.' The mirror shaking was really very easy -- put a little vibrating motor in it that shook it. The water was a another story. It was very difficult thing to do. You couldn't do it. I had everyone working on it. Finally, messing around with a guitar one night, I set a glass and started playing notes on a guitar and got to a right frequency, a right note, and it did exactly what I wanted it to do."
56. Bubo, Clash of the Titans (1981)
Ray Harryhausen, producer/visual effects director: "Bubo was in the first version of the script that [screenwriter] Beverley Cross showed me around the time of the release of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger . I had always wanted to do the story of Perseus and the Gorgon, but I could never work out a coherent continuity. Beverley Cross was a Greek scholar, and the owl was a familiar symbol, even used on the ancient coins, so he weaved it into the story as a guide to Perseus. I worked on the design for quite some time, trying to keep it simple and practical, but beautiful in its own way. As far as the noises he makes, what other sound would a mechanical owl make?"
Steven Archer, first animation assistant: "Ray’s main instruction to me was to give the figures rounded movements. Occasionally he would tell me to do more of this or less of that, but overall he seemed pleased with my work. The first animation I did was the flying sequences with the tiny Bubo figure, shot against a blue screen. Most people just wouldn’t realize the sheer physical hard work of doing such scenes, with the figure on wires several feet above the stage. I would have to climb a ladder, move the model, climb down and take the ladder away, walk back to the camera and hit the exposure pedal. Then repeat the thing all over again and yet again later when working with the vulture. Doing that day after day was totally exhausting.
“Ray spent a day going through the problems I might face using the rear-screen set-up, and then I also sat in the background for a couple of days just watching him animate. At least the Bubo figure was a lot easier to handle. I had a little trouble with relative size to the background plates and had to re-shoot a few sequences, but it was all part of the learning process. There are so many things you have to consider with the technical aspects, let alone concentrating on the animation movements. It just makes you realize just how brilliant Ray was as an animator."
Quotes courtesy of Mike Hankin, author of Ray Harryhausen: Master of the Majicks
55. The closet computer, Clueless (1995)
Amy Heckerling, director: "Each day they go through outfits and they see what goes with what. It seemed like there'd be a lot of repetition and a big waste of time. Now I used to play with cutout dolls when I was a little kid, and I thought, 'What if I had cutouts of all my clothes, little pictures, and I could figure it out that way?' Then when computers came along, I thought you could computerize every garment you have -- you could go through everything quickly. It was always something I thought would be a time-saver. I thought that before there were computers.
"[The computer] was something between the costume person, Mona May, and the prop guy had to make it feel like what it was. We photographed Alicia [Silverstone] so you could see the clothes coming on to her. A computer expert who came in [described] exactly how it would go, swirling and swiping with her hands, how the outfit would come on, that was created by the computer guy. The designs are not realistic. When I wrote it, before we shot it, early '90s grunge was a big thing and it was an anti-fashion moment. Then big designers started cashing in on it. Suddenly you have an expensive plaid outfits. In Seattle they wear plaid as a practical, keep-warm, don't-care-about-what-you're-wearing feel."
54. The hammer, Oldboy (2003)
Park Chan-wook, director: "[The main character] Oh Dae-su is not some special forces agent nor an expert martial artist. He is an ordinary person. That's why I thought that it would be good if his weapon is something that's not a weapon, which he turns into a weapon. As the hammer has a blunt head on one end and sharp teeth on the other, I really wanted to explore the idea of switching from one end to the other depending on the use to hit the opponents. On top of that, the fact that it could also be used as a torturing tool was a great advantage. Haven't all boys played with a hammer trying to pull their younger brother's tooth out instead of a nail? (Or is it just me?)
"I picked the most common model, which could be found at any hardware store in Seoul. Then we made identical copies of it with soft rubber. Especially for the extreme close-up in the teeth-pulling scene, we used an extremely soft rubber. The original storyboard was divided into dozens of shots. We rehearsed the scene based on that plan, but decided to turn it into one long take in the late afternoon.
"So the next morning, we made new preparations and shot until the evening. Just counting the takes where we went from the beginning to the end, we shot 19 takes. Considering the width of the corridor, it is obvious that the camera's position in this long take shot is not possible without taking away one side of the wall. I think the audience would sense this unconsciously. So I think they take the scene as if it were some sort of a stage performance. Especially given the fact that this whole scene is without a cut. These two elements, which cinematically create distance for the audience, paradoxically give them the sense of being there with them in the scene. I think as a result of this, the audience ended up embracing all of Oh Dae-su's isolation, solitude, fatigue, pain, his determination to meet any obstacles head-on and break through them, and even his Thanatos."
53. The cigarette holder, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Robert McGinnis, poster designer (in the book Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M., 2010): "The art director told me that all they wanted was a single figure, just this girl standing, but with a cat over her shoulder, and that she would be holding her long cigarette holder. They sent me a few movie stills to work with and I said, 'Sure, why not?'.... [The art director] told me they wanted to establish that Breakfast at Tiffany's was a movie about the city. They wanted a couple embracing with the skyline in the background, which they wanted to contrast with the elegance in the main figure of Audrey."
Blake Edwards, director (in an interview with The New York Times, 1960): "Even Capote is happy about the script. He wrote the producer that we should watch the two-foot cigarette holder and not come too close to Auntie Mame, but he thought we had Holly right, and that was the main thing. I couldn't agree more."
52. The McLovin ID, Superbad (2007)
Chris L. Spellman, production designer: "I was doing the film Knocked Up with Judd Apatow [who] said he had this other film that he was producing and that he'd like me to meet on it and read the script. I really laughed out loud a number of times. I remember reading about the guys trying to get alcohol and Fogell getting a fake ID. I don't believe it was really descriptive, I think it just said he brought out a fake ID and that his name was McLovin. I don't believe it said that he was from Hawaii. I actually mentioned to the guys, why don't we make his license from Hawaii [because] I had done a film there and I just thought about a state that's not even in the mainland. I remember researching streets because we had to put a street name on there.
"The guy that created it was our graphics designer named Ted Haigh and I brought him on the movie because he has a website called Dr. Cocktail and he knows more about the history of cocktails and alcohol than anyone I've ever met. I knew that we had to create all these alcohol labels, because the kids were under 21 and we had to create fictitious labels. So I brought Ted on, mainly to do the liquor labels and stuff. Sometimes the best part of working with Seth and Evan is actually making them laugh and hearing them laugh. I recall Seth laughing and saying, 'Yeah, let's make him from Hawaii.'"
51. The batarang, Batman (1989)
Terry Ackland-Snow, art director: "We did a rough design sketch of what was required, and then it got handed over to the special effects supervisor, John Evans, who made all the gadgets. We were working on it all together at the same time, giving Tim Burton exactly what he wanted Batman to have. [The batarang] was based on trying to fit the symbol of Batman -- the idea was to have everything Batmobile-looking, the wings, that sort of thing. All the gadgets echoed each other."
John Evans, special effects supervisor: "I think we made about a dozen. We made some with fiberglass and some with polished aluminum. Anton [Furst]'s team had done all the designs, so he gave us the designs, and we took it from there. It was a simple thing to do. We just had to get the balance right so it could fly through the air."
50. The blue box, Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Jon Neill, prop maker: "The blue box was a really complicated piece that had to be machined. My business partner and I were working at Prop and Custom Inc. when we got Mulholland Drive. From what I recall, David did some of the first rough sketches, and then based off those, I did some more drawings. The script was pretty secret, [and] the scenes would be described loosely to us, like how Lynch wanted to see the box work -- he had a vision and direction in his head. He wanted the box to appear otherworldly, with a weird key that would unlock a seamless box and the hinges needed to be inside the box, so that when it would finally open, the metal would have a clean look.
"We made a prototype version in the beginning that wasn't working. Then we figured out a way to make it open where there were no hinges on the outside. The second box was just a cube with a key hole -- no door -- just smooth like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. We had to make two versions of the box, so Lynch could get the different shots he needed, where the box was being examined closed and opened.
"Both versions were either anodized aluminum, or they were painted to look like they had a deep auto-body color. The chunkier key was also aluminum. But Lynch didn't want you to look at these and think, Oh, these are definitely made out of aluminum. Jim, the guy I worked with, was a custom hotrod guy, so he was very into candy paint and clear coats and stuff like that -- stuff that would make the light bounce through, off the aluminum, and give it that otherworldly feel. There's a luminescence to the blue that's on those props. I would say there's probably 1/16 of an inch of paint on the boxes -- enough that if you held it in the light, you'd be like, Oh man, that pops!
"Watching the movie afterward to see how he restructured whatever it was that he had in his mind, it was like trying to come to grasp with, Did the blue box come from outer space? Was it an inter-dimensional thing? Or was it some kind of life force? I am as close to having any answers about the meaning of the box as every single person who's seen the movie -- even though I've worked on it and had it described to me."
49. The gold watch, Pulp Fiction (1994)
David Wasco, production designer: "Jonathan Hodges was the prop master on Reservoir Dogs, the movie we did before Pulp Fiction, and he got reprimanded for putting a Gucci watch on Harvey Keitel. They had to go through a lot of trouble for clearance on that. Smarting from that, he pitched something that didn't have an obvious name on the face and I don't recall what the actual manufacturer was. It might've had something on the back of it. There was no name on the face. There were Roman numerals.
"He picked it and Quentin [Tarantino] liked the fact that the brackets that hold the wrist strap were welded on there. So it was almost like it was a watch that was altered a little bit. You could almost see it on the images of the watch in movie. I'm assuming Quentin has the watch because he kept everything. He keeps everything from the movies and values all of this stuff. Even the not-very-valuable stuff. He likes to keep all that -- including the cars. I know he kept the Pussy Wagon from Kill Bill."
Jonathan Hodges, property master: "It's gotta go up his butt. I'm pretty sure people were wearing some form of something on their wrists a long time ago, but most things were a pocket watch and those things are bigger than an old silver dollar. So having it be more wrist watch size, or small and concealable, probably plays in better to the concept of it being shoved up somebody's butt for however long.
"There was a description in the script that it's one of the earliest wristwatches ... I just went around looking at a lot of different watches and found this watch that was a round, old watch face, but instead of having the standard arms that come out -- you know you've got a little spring on a spindle that the strap goes on to -- it had little soldered or welded pieces of probably silver alloy or something like that. It was gold plated, which I've never seen before or since, honestly. Someone had manufactured it so you can wear it on your wrist. I don't know how old it was in the lineage of wrist watches. But it was definitely old and it fit the bit -- and it was affordable, which was also important.
"I think there may have been a conversation with Bruce Willis [about the watch] because Bruce, at the time, and I have no reason to know if this changed, was really into watches. I believe that between the three of us there was a suggestion to put on an old Speidel flex band on the watch, so I went and tracked one of those down. You can go to antique stores and they've got little glass-covered cases full of all sorts of stuff. So I tracked down a vintage Speidel band and had it mounted on there and there you have it."
48. Sex Panther cologne, Anchorman (2004)
Scott Maginnis, property master: "On the shelf are a whole bunch of other colognes and this was the one that was supposed to stand out. This one was for 'the important ladies.' I don't remember if the elevator that it comes up on was in the script. It described a very elaborate box. Then there's Judd Apatow's line: "it's a diaper filled with Indian food."
"So I bought a humidor, for storing cigars, and then lined it with astroturf, and then built a unit below it with the elevator on a servo so we could control it. Then I had a sculptor make the actual panther, which was based on some panther photo that I found. It was her idea to have the ear pop off -- it was definitely a joint effort.
"But you know when you're watching the movie and it's a little wonky when it comes up? When I had it built, we got it to work really smooth. But when we were filming it it was really jerky. We realized the focus-puller for the camera, his [rig] was wireless and it was on the same frequency as the servo. So we were having the toughest time getting it right, then we finally got a perfect one. I talked about it with Adam later and it turned out it was funnier with the jerky take. That was a happy accident."
47. The cocaine pile, Scarface (1983)
Oliver Stone, writer (in The Making of 'Scarface,' 1998): "I thought that Al always reminded me of Humphrey Bogart with that narrow face and those nervous eyes of his. I thought it'd be a great finale for him to be buried in a mound of gold dust or cocaine. Just crash into it."
Brian De Palma, director (in The Making of 'Scarface,' 1998): "I don't know what Al was snorting to tell you the truth. I do remember we tried out baby milk, which is dried milk, but there was nothing easy to snort because it would get in your nose and he'd be blowing his nose all the time. But I never snorted it, so I can't really attest to what it was."
Al Pacino, actor (Tony Montana) (in The Making of 'Scarface,' 1998): "I don't really like to give away that secret because it takes away from somebody's belief. You have to have a secret. That's part of what we do."
46. Modèle 1892 revolver, Breathless (1960)
Jean-Paul Belmondo, actor (Michael/Laszlo) (in "Belmondo: Father and Son," Têtes d'affiche, 1961): "When I accepted the role, [Jean-Luc Godard] gave me three little pages where he'd written, 'He leaves Marseilles. He steals a car. He wants to sleep with the girl again. She doesn't. In the end, he either dies or leaves -- to be decided.' And we opted for his death […] In Breathless, [Michel Poiccard] does what he wants and isn't afraid of anything… But he takes it a step further. He's so relaxed. He kills a cop, but it doesn't shake him. He steals money like it's completely natural. It's not a problem for him. James Cagney played gangsters, too, of course, but he was always tense, and terrible things always happened to him. Poiccard got killed at the end, but that's the only bad thing that happens to him."
45. The red stapler, Office Space (1999)
Mike Judge, director: "I wanted the stapler to stand out in the cubicle and the color scheme in the cubicles was sort of gray and blue-green, so I had them make it red. It was just a regular off-the-shelf Swingline stapler. They didn't make them in red back then, so I had them paint it red and then put the Swingline logo on the side.
"Since Swingline didn't make one back then, people were calling them trying to order red staplers. Then people started making red Swinglines and selling them on Ebay and making lots of money, so Swingline finally decided to start making red staplers.
"I have the burnt one from the last scene. Stephen Root has one that was in his cubicle. There were three total that we made. I don't know where the third one is."
44. Cobb's totem, Inception (2010)
Scott Maginnis, property master: "[Christopher Nolan] had this old thing that he called a top... but it wouldn't actually spin. So I completely redesigned [Nolan's top], and the only thing I kept from that one was the texture. It had an amazing texture.
"Then I got a bunch of tops, I got about 20 of them, and went out to spin them to see which looked the best and spun the best. From that I had four different people make one which would work, and when that one came in, it was obvious that it was the one. It's funny: I spent about three or four months designing the case that transports in and out of their dreams, but the top took me about three hours."
43. The Supreme Being's map, Time Bandits (1981)
Terry Gilliam, director (in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, 1982): ''The 'big questions' are always there for us. Michael [Palin, co-writer] and I had solid religious upbringings, so we grew up believing and thinking about God and religion and good and evil. I can't get those out of my system; they're a part of me. The normal approach in a kids' film is to make the final character a wizard. But why not bring God into it? Why not stop fiddling around, and get right down to things? The cosmic view appeals to me. I like to think I'm not alone, that there's a whole structure around us."
Bernard Allum, graphic designer: "I was working at a London Television Studio as a Senior Graphic Designer when I was contacted by the Art Director on Time Bandits to meet up with Terry Gilliam to discuss a special prop he wanted. Terry was a Python so, who wouldn't want to work for him?
"We met at Lee Studios in London and he gave me a vague outline of the plot (no scripts to outsiders) and some reference books (Athanasuis Kircher's A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge Astrology, The Celestial Mirror, and L'évènement Cartes et figures de la Terre) and said, "I want a map of the Universe that looks like it was made by God, go and create it" Bit of a challenge. I pored over the books and set off to it. I initially made it an A1 size. Terry wanted it bigger, so as to make the dwarves look smaller, I did and it ended up approx 120 x 70 centimeters.
"We wanted the map to look as though it was made by [The Supreme Being], so it had to be very, very detailed. I airbrushed the background to look like the Milky Way with all the galaxies and all the stars that you can see, a bit like looking at the night sky with binoculars. I then drew thin white lines with a ruling pen and hundreds of dots and dashes to make it look like a map. I put an outside border on the map which had clocks of various vintages which were taken from old Sears catalogues and old engravings; the idea was that it should look as though you could track time from across the grid. I then found and drew images of celestial beings and circular astrology charts to give the map an antique feel from the beginning.
"I wanted to have it specially printed onto canvas and the best way to do this was by having it silk screened in dark blue. The printer printed three maps and complained bitterly that it was really difficult because it was so detailed. I then took the finished items and hand decorated the images in golds, silvers and regal colours like purple and azure blues, but all the time aware this prop was going to have a lot of manhandling during the filming process. I then had to cut out holes in the map so the Dwarves could jump down one time zone and come back up in another thereby time travelling. The map also has a full color image of the Creator's palace on the rear. I then folded and creased the maps like a Ordnance Survey map and duly delivered them. Terry was delighted and I was relieved to have fulfilled the brief.
"Later Terry called me up to work on Brazil. I designed the Ministry of Information Angel logo and many set props. At our initial meeting he asked me if there were any more maps in existence. I said, no, he had the three that were made. He then went on to tell me that they used one for rehearsal on camera, one to shoot on set, and the last one saved just in case there was a mishap with the other two. The clean unused one was framed to go behind George Harrison's Handmade Films desk in his Soho office. He told me it was a lavish affair, sandwiched between glass in a hand carved antique frame. He then laughed the manic laugh of his. I asked why he was laughing. He said, "it cost more to frame the map than we paid you to make it."
42. The portable memory eraser, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Dan Leigh, production designer: "Our mission was to arrive at a believable piece of medical equipment that did not appear futuristic. The character of Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) maintains his practice on the fringe of medicine. His office is decidedly low-tech and a bit shabby. The memory erasing apparatus had to belong with that character in that environment.
"Design began with a visit to the neurosurgery department at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan where we were shown an array of electrodes, wires, and monitors. Film 'time' would not allow for the painstaking one-at-a-time application of electrodes so we needed a framework. [Director] Michel Gondry has a fascination with the common kitchen colander and we began fusing ideas together. The colander gave us a one piece framework to attach many electrodes together and retained the low-tech style and necessary portability.
"The next consideration was Jim Carrey's comfort. Neck and head support was added to the design to keep him comfortable for extended or repeat takes. The added design elements were carefully referenced to actual medical equipment, and points of light used to indicate the helmet was operational. These design elements were fabricated and assembled at Costume Armor in Cornwall, NY, and sent out for automotive finishes. Two of these were made but only one had an approved finish and became the hero prop. Both have vanished into movie lore."
41. The hourglass, The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Jay Scarfone and William Stillman in their book The Wizardry of Oz (1999): "More complex props like the Witch's hourglass and crystal ball (rimmed with sculpted Winged Monkeys) and the floral design of the Munchkinland coach also required blueprints. However, the task of creating these pieces from concept to realization was delegated to the staff of Cedric Gibbons, overseer of the art department. […] The Wicked Witch's hourglass was re-created as a wood and papier-maché prop for the scene in which the Witch shatters it in a rage. For that shot, small holes, drilled at an angle, allowed the prop to glide the length of a wire in order to consistently hit its mark. The hourglass measures 20 inches in height and 11 ½ inches in width. The glass is handblown; its frame is decorated with six winged gryphons."
40. The business card, American Psycho (2000)
Gideon Ponte, production designer (in an interview with Yahoo, 2015): "All I remember was just trying to find out what you would put on these cards, and how they were meant to look. So there was a lot of talking to bankers and trying to get a hold of cards. In the end, actually, the cards probably are -- and this is my fault -- more European than American."
39. The clay pot, Ghost (1990)
Jane Musky, production designer: "When we were designing Molly's loft set, Demi Moore had wanted a work space of some kind. Somewhere along in this process Demi had begun pottery lessons to learn how to use the wheel and shape pots. She actually became very good at throwing pots. We used her teacher's pots on all the shelves and Demi learned to throw in that style so the work would all look like hers.
"When Jerry Zucker was directing the love scene with 'Unchained Melody' we all left the stage while they came up with the choreography. Somewhere between, Jerry, Demi, and Patrick [Swayze] hit the pottery wheel and the rest is history. [The clay] created quite a mess take after take. The slip was all over the floor. We created a real working studio. Clay and mess everywhere. I also held my breath each day hoping the juke box would not malfunction."
38. The Talkboy, Home Alone 2 (1992)
Roger Shiffman, founder of Zizzle L.L.C. and former President of Tiger Electronics: "I worked directly with John Hughes. He came to my office a few times. His original concept in the script was for Macaulay Culkin to have a gun. I said, 'Look you can't have a gun at the airport. It just doesn't fly at O'Hare.' So I told him to let me work on it.
"We actually designed the Talkboy ourselves, which is why it has the design it has, with the grip where he could slide his hand into and the extending microphone so it looked more lifelike. We had not [done a recorder before that] and what was interesting is how big a deal it was for us and Fox. Fox made the introduction with John, but I made a deal with them for a modest royalty I'd continue to build the brand. We went on to do a tremendous amount of volume -- there are videos of people fighting over them -- but the big success only came when they sold the VHS tape. It was the largest distribution, I think 10 million tapes, and every one had a printed brochure for Talkboy, saying it was a real product you could get."
37. The up-to-11 amps, This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Bryan Jones, production designer: "This was my first big Hollywood job. I was a rock and roll musician, with my brother, but I opted out of rock for art school, then went into film. I met an art director who was doing television commercials. I had graduated from CalArts as a painter, but I went into film because I could make art, be creative, and work with people instead of being stuck in my painting studio alone. So I drove a truck for an art director and listened to him as he spoke to set companies, listened to him as he coaxed them through what he wanted them to be. After that I got my first prop man job, then my first art director job, then I did low-budget television commercials. Then I did music videos, like Eddie Money and Carlos Santana. I was friends with Peter Smokler, the cinematographer on Spinal Tap, who recommended to Rob Reiner and producer Karen Murphy.
"I never received a script. It was an outline, and it said things like in this scene, this will have, you know, Christopher Guest's Nigel will show Marty his guitar collection. No setup could afford to be on the fly. Just the dialogue. So I went to Norm's Rare Guitars, a hallmark of a guitar shop, and I said, I want that and that and that and that, then Norm brought them over, set them up, and they did the scene.
"All I really did to make the amps was buy replacement knobs that matched the Marshall amps. I took them to a graphics house, a place I used to work early on, my first gig, a place called the Ray Johnson Studio. They used to create color-corrected packages. When TV was in black-and-white, if you took a Quaker Oats package with the dark blue on top and the red at the bottom, the red would read darker than the blue. So I did a bunch of projects with them, but I knew I could talk to Ray Johnson about the amp dials, and he could take the dials off them and put new ones on in the same font that goes to 11."
36. The silver spheres, Phantasm (1979)
Don Coscarelli, director: "The concept of the Phantasm sphere is probably the only idea I've ever used in one of my films that came from my own dream. A few years prior to making Phantasm, I actually had a dream (or more like a nightmare) in which I was being pursued down corridors by a small chrome sphere. The dream didn't include any blades, drills, or blood. That came later.
"With special effects producer Paul Pepperman, I met with a noted prop and effects fabricator by the name of Willard Green. Mr. Green had a shop in Hollywood and for a very fair price offered to build several iterations of the sphere. He built a steel and fiberglas jig that contained the chrome blades, drilling mechanism, and blood tube. Then he created several plastic vacuum-metalized hemispheres that would snap onto the jig. Using the different hemispheres we could set it up to shoot profile in each direction and also head on. It was a beautiful piece of work which I still have to this day. Sadly, Will Green passed away about four months after we filmed the sequence and he was never able to see the finished film. However, this sphere sequence, which he was such a large part of, has gone on to terrify and delight audiences for decades since."
35. The Green Destiny, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Kuo Chang-hsi, sword maker, via his assistant: "The sword blade was fully handmade of 12 different kinds of metal. Through pattern welding, Mr. Kuo forged the blade over 1,000 layers and made the carving look like the twining pattern of numerous green dragons hidden in the 90cm sword blade. Mr. Kuo also carved 23 dragons on one side of the sword, which symbolized the 23-year emperor's position of Sun Quan (A.D. 182- 252). It took Mr. Kuo three months to make Green Destiny sword.
"There is a specific term for the Chinese pattern welding technique -- 'folded pattern steel' by literal translation. The process might be similar to that of making Damascus steel."
Quotes reported and translated by Cat Lan
34. The idol, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Keith Short, sculptor: "Work began at Elstree Studios in early 1980. The temple rock walls were made to include several threatening-looking Aztec heads designed to collapse when triggered by the Idol.
"Besides being required to carve polystyrene rocks and heads, my work also took place in conjunction with the plasterers, since whatever I sculpted in clay would need to be molded and cast into a more robust material, usually plaster of Paris, sometimes resin or fiberglass -- which in fact was the case for the Idol. Fiberglass is strong and relatively lightweight. It can be hollow and easily made to look like metal, bronze, gold, silver, etc. The idol that I sculpted was reproduced several times in resin and painted in gold. The reference, which [production designer] Norman [Reynolds] gave me to work from, was taken from a book of Aztec sculptures and buildings. There was a beautiful little carving in green jade marble of a female fertility god giving birth with a happy sort of grimace on her face (which Norman did not like; he asked me to make her face much more threatening). I sculpted her with blank eyeballs, which was the one used in the film."
33. The switchblade, Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Nick Adams, actor (Chick) (in an interview with Modern Screen, 1956): "I remember [James Dean's] reaction one afternoon when we worked on Rebel Without a Cause, and we all argued against his decision to use a real knife, instead of a prop, in the famous knife fight scene. All we had to do was catch the look in his eyes as he stared in protest at us, to know that a prop would be too dull, let alone unrealistic, as far as he was concerned. So he might get cut. So what? So he did get cut -- and he was delighted with the feeling of satisfaction that came to him, a feeling based not only on the fact that he had lived his role more than he had pretended it, but that there was a kick to this way of acting, as there should be to everything a fellow pitches in to do -- and no matter the cost."
32. The guitar, Purple Rain (1984)
Dave Rusan, guitar maker (in an interview with Premiere Guitar, 2016): "Prince wasn't much for small talk. He could certainly express himself if he felt it was necessary, but in this case he didn't all that much. So he had this bass with him in the store that day -- I'd actually worked on it before -- and his main requirements were just that the guitar should be in that shape, and it had to be white, and it had to have gold hardware. I think he specified he wanted EMG pickups, but compared to all the conversations you would have with somebody about a custom guitar, there wasn't anything else he wanted to talk about -- the size of the neck, the frets, the playability features, or anything. He did come in once after that, and Jeff [Hill, the owner of Knut-Koupée Music] was able to get him to make a few comments, but I figured if he's not going to tell me what he wants, I'll make something I think he'll like and hope for the best."
31. The Commandment tablets, The Ten Commandments (1956)
William Sapp, special effects property master (in an interview for Written in Stone, 1999): "God, of course, is an animated pillar of light. But after the animated lightning bolt strikes the granite of Sinai (real granite brought back from the real Sinai), I'm back behind the rock during the scene, lighting the gunpowder that makes the words and the shape of the tablets. Heston's tablets were those real granite tablets. Mr. Heston's stand-in worked with a lightweight plaster pair I made for camera rehearsals and lighting set-ups."
30. The stick men, The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Ben Rock, production designer: "We had no resources, and I'm not a logo designer. But I had to come up with something simple and iconic that could be made in the woods with nothing more complicated than scissors.
"I had picked up this book called Magical Alphabets by Nigel Pennick for the house at the end, because we wanted to have Transitus Fluvii, which is an old witches' language from the Middle Ages, around the windows and doors. There was a thing called the Rune Man [in the book]. You can sort of see the stick man in it. I was like, 'Oh cool, throw together some sticks and twine and then you can adorn it however you want.' There was something super creepy about something that could be made in the woods by something primitive. This is overly anal-retentive, but my mind goes to places like that. There was that movie a few years ago, Sinister, and I just imagined the demon in that film going to a hobby shop and asking for Super 8 splicing tape. It's impossible for me not to think the demon doesn't manufacture Super 8 splicing tape, so where is he getting it? But everything that's in that stick men can just be found.
"What was kind of cool about it, too, was after Fahad [Vania, production assistant] and I hung all of them, we went to get lunch and we came back to the same place and we couldn't find the field where they were. We were looking and looking and then I saw one, and then I looked around and said, 'Oh god, I'm standing in the middle of all of them.' You don't really notice them until you're surrounded by them, and that's a freaky feeling. It's an obvious threat, you don't know what the threat means, you don't know who made it, but it had to have been made."
29. The inflatable co-pilot, Airplane! (1980)
David Zucker, co-director/co-writer: "We had this idea to personify an auto pilot. I think we had an artist draw a conception of it. We modeled it after that kind of cliché image of a pilot [in] comical, blow-up form. The prop department had an air hose that they just blew up in seconds. Then they had it rigged so it would blow up at whatever rate of speed we needed for the scene.
"I don't remember who specifically came up with the joke. We would sit around the table and think of these things. Jokes were added on as we would write. The hands grabbing her breasts are always a good laugh. When we said, 'Oh it's deflating,' we had her blow it up again, so then the idea was to put the deflator in the guy's lap… And then how that would look to Leslie Nielsen, who was just happening to enter the cockpit from behind. So all these things kind of all worked. For the ending, somebody, I think a grip, came up with the idea to have a Mrs. Pilot come up. Then he winks and the special effects people rigged all that up.
"I think that my brother, Jerry, may have it in his garage now. The paint has kind of deteriorated a lot because I think it was repainted to be Mrs. Pilot for the end scene."
28. The neuralyzer, Men in Black (1997)
Bo Welch, production designer: "[The neuralyzer] does a very complicated task, so I thought the simpler it looked, the better. The shape is sort of born out of the Space Race and alien technology, and therefore is very streamlined. We didn't want it to be so big and bulky in their otherwise lovely silhouette black suit and black tie. So it had to be small enough yet significant enough to be like, What the hell is that? Once you hit a button it pops up to roughly twice its length. It gets your attention… I know we made a number of them. Tommy Lee Jones was particularly rough on that prop, where he would sort of manhandle it... He actually broke a couple. Then it was, 'Oh my god, go get another neuralyzer!'"
Scott Maginnis, assistant property master: "We were still shooting film at the time, and sometimes when you shoot a gun on camera, you miss the flash on screen because it goes between the fiftieth of a second -- it goes off between that. One of the pains in the asses with [the neuralyzer] was getting something that would go off between that fiftieth of a second because they wanted a bright flash. So I ended up buying old flash cubes that went on cameras. We pulled the elements from those and put them in there, so each take you'd have to swap it out and put another one in there. But they had a long enough burn to ensure it would go long enough on screen. Bo Welch gets a lot of credit for that. He's brilliant."
27. The glowing box, Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Robert Aldrich, director (in an interview with Sight and Sound, 1968): "The scriptwriter, A.I. Bezzerides, did a marvelous job, contributing a great deal of inventiveness to the picture. That devilish box, for example -- an obvious atom bomb symbol -- was mostly his idea. To achieve the ticking and hissing sound that's heard every time the box is opened we used the sound of an airplane exhaust overdubbed with the sound made by human vocal chords when someone breathes out noisily."
26. The Zoltar machine, Big (1988)
James Mazzola, property master: "I was Zoltar. I was inside that machine. I built it for the specs of my body. And I sat in the whole thing and designed it so I could fit in there and do all the little apparatuses. You know when the quarter goes down the chute? I had a screen in front and could look at Tom [Hanks] to see when he did his actions. We designed the thing and our fabricator on 23rd St -- which is no longer there -- built it. It’s all handmade. We actually just cut it up and painted it and taped it and I did the mechanics to it. So you know it was a lot of people involved in the thing, and it came out really well. The timing of that quarter sliding into his mouth was a challenge. Inside I had a whole board with all kinds of levers. I was in good shape and I just knew the systems, so it worked each time and we didn't have to keep doing take after take. I knew exactly what they wanted, so why teach somebody to do it?"
25. The chainsaw, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper, director: "I needed an old saw. A saw that had character from age. One of the investors in the movie happened to have an old saw in his garage. [We had] just that one. Of course production-wise, that's almost unheard of. That thing could've been damaged, stolen, ruined. Leatherface fell with it a couple of times. We were a bit cavalier about being careful with it. So we got another chain for the saw and took all of the teeth off it. Then we took the clutch out of the saw itself to see what would happen. If you rev the engine, the chain without that piece would naturally vibrate around in a circle. So the film only reads that it's spinning. That made it safe for running with it.
"But when it came to a shot where we had to cut something with the saw, we had to put the clutch back in and the chain with teeth back on. It has to go through Leatherface's pants when he falls at the end of the film. So the clutch goes back in and a piece of metal goes on his leg and underneath there's meat wrapped in plastic with a lot of stage blood inside it. It ripped through the steak and down to the steel plate that heated to up to maybe 150 degrees because of the friction. His reaction of pain was real. It burnt him. Not real real bad, but enough to make him jump. I didn't want [the actors] calm at all. It was a miserable shoot, and that misery brought out pure and real fear. I later heard from [Gunnar Hansen] giving interviews that doing that final shot was his last opportunity to kill me, that he worked that dance up, swinging that saw close to me. It's right up to the camera. So ending on that, just cutting to black at the peak of the hysteria was totally natural. You're left breathless."
24. The chess board, The Seventh Seal (1957)
Ingmar Bergman, director (in the documentary Bergman Island, 2004): "I wrote this film to conjure up my own fear of dying. Death was therefore to have a lead role and play a part right from the beginning. I knew that the knight and Jöns were traveling through a plague-infested landscape so I thought about the specific situation in which this knight would meet Death. It was very natural for me to think of Albertus Pictor's paintings. He was the famous medieval church painter. There's a painting of his that depicts Death playing chess with a knight. So it all unfolded quite naturally."
23. The camera, Rear Window (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock, director (in the book Hitchcock, 1966): "[Rear Window] was a possibility of doing a purely cinematic film. You have an immobilized man looking out. That's one part of the film. The second part shows what he sees and the third par shows how he reacts. This is actually the purest expression of a cinematic idea.
"He's a real Peeping Tom. In fact, Miss Lejeune, the critic of the London Observer, complained about that. She made some comment to the effect that Rear Window was a horrible film because the hero spent all of his time peeping out of the window. What's so horrible about that? Sure, he's a snooper, but aren't we all?"
A 1954 ad for the Exakta VX: The choice of the Exakta VX for Hitchcock's best motion picture could not have been unintentional because of the fact that the VX is the most versatile camera in the world. With it you can photograph any type of subject, microscopic or gigantic, an inch or a mile away. With the VX you can shoot routine pictures with a maximum of simplicity and ease, and master any difficult or challenging subject as James Stewart did in Rear Window.
22. The Necronomicon, The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)
Tom Sullivan, special effects/animator: "The script for The Evil Dead had a description that [the book] had a cover of some type of animal skin, which I took to be leather [...] Being an illustrator, I thought, 'Maybe that's not scary enough, to identify it as a book of evil.' I had the idea of human skin, and one of the most disgusting things I had heard is the story of Ilse Koch. She was the wife of a commandant of a Nazi concentration camp, and she would skin prisoners and make lamp shades and book covers with their skin. I thought that was horrifying, so I decided to use a replica of a human face. I had the molds of a couple of the actors, and I pulled it out and glued it onto a piece of corrugated cardboard, and bound the pages, which were a stiff parchment stock, with grocery bag paper.
"For Evil Dead 2, Sam [Raimi, director] wanted a larger book [...] I sculpted that one in clay. The pages for the Evil Dead 2 book were enlargements of my Evil Dead book… Then I would ink all the [pages] with red acrylic paint, which had the look of human blood. Then I took the pages and did a really dumb thing. Trying to age them, I stuck the pages in the oven. Even though they didn't get destroyed it just makes the paper so brittle. The best thing to do is stain it in tea."
21. The red and blue pills, The Matrix (1999)
Owen Paterson, production designer: "Lana and Lilly [Wachowski] are true geniuses… I would have specific conversations with them about that scene. It takes place in a hotel that is essentially closed down. It's derelict. They had this beautiful expression [for it], which was 'putrid decay.'
"I can't remember what was in the pills, but there were discussions with doctors, so if anyone had have swallowed them by mistake, then it would be safe. It was just something that had to be blue and something that had to be red -- I believe we used gelatin caps. It was quite simple the way that was set up. The other really interesting thing was there were certain shots [in the scene] that were physically impossible to do. One is in the spectacles that [Morpheus] is wearing, you'll notice the left and right hand -- and I think the right hand is the red pill and the left hand is the blue pill -- but they are held up to the eye... The scene was shot so that the two separate hands were shot and both placed into those glasses. You would never know."
20. The One Ring, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
Grant Major, production designer: "Tolkien's idea of the ring, though highly descriptive in its origin and the terrible power it has over its wearer, was described physically as being a simple golden band. This band is able to expand and shrink to fit the hand that wears it and when heated reveals a phrase in Black Speech: 'One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.'
"When first tasked with the design of this most important prop for The Fellowship of the Ring, I thought it would probably take forever to agree on its look with the director, producers, the studio, LOTR experts, and fans all weighing in. You can imagine the visual significance to the film, the marketing, and other spin-offs, and how this iconic object would have to endure all sorts of ongoing scrutiny and re-production.
"It's interesting to understand that, at this phase of development in late 1998, the film project was completely under the radar, with none of the hype that surrounds it now. And Peter Jackson had the last word in all these design decisions. As it transpired, the overall design concept was quick and easy, one of the producers, Rick Porras, was about to be married and the ring he had chosen was identified as a good starting point for 'The One Ring.' Its profile was perfectly bulbous and 'weighty' and had a significant 'historic' look, was well proportioned and simple enough to carry the phrase on its internal and external surfaces. Alan Lee produced some additional sketches of the ring but it didn't change significantly from this first idea. A local jeweler from Nelson, New Zealand, Jens Hansen, was chosen to make these ring props. After various prototypes were produced, a final version was chosen and then multiples were made (around 40, I understand) for the actors and doubles in various units, many more were made latterly for publicity and gifts.
"There were also versions made for specific moments in the story; an extra large one (way over scale) was used for a super close up when placed on a table (also over scale) in Bag End to achieve a forced perspective effect. Another version was made from a magnetic metal so that when dropped onto the floor inside the front door of Bag End it would appear heavy and not bounce. From memory, there was never a version with the glowing lettering -- this became a visual effect. The lettering itself was a direct copy of that found in the book. But it was such a privilege help to bring this iconic prop to life and see how it has now become the definitive version for this movie phenomenon."
19. The red balloon, The Red Balloon (1956)
Pascal Lamorisse, actor (Pascal) and son of director Albert Lamorisse, in an interview with NPR (2007): "It's a love story. This poor little boy, we'll call him Pascal, he seems to have a grandmother. No sisters, no parents, and his only hope in life, his only real, close friend, is the red balloon. The red balloon was my friend. He was really like a real character with a spirit of his own, because he was glossy and reflected the world around him. It looked beautiful. You don't see balloons like that."
18. The knife, Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock, director (in the book Hitchcock, 1966): "It took us seven days to shoot [Marion's stabbing] and there were seventy camera setups for forty-five seconds of footage. We had a torso specially made up for that scene, with the blood that was supposed to spurt out from the knife, but I didn't use it. I used a live girl instead, a naked model who stood in for Janet Leigh. We only showed Miss Leigh's hands, shoulders, and head. All the rest was the stand-in. Naturally, the knife never touched the body; it was all done in the montage. I shot some of it in slow motion so as to cover the breasts. The slow shots were not accelerated later on because they were inserted in the montage so as to give an impression of normal speed.... This is the most violent scene in the picture. As the film unfolds, there is less violence because the harrowing memory of this initial killing carries over to the suspenseful passages that come later."
17. The Burn Book, Mean Girls (2004)
Mark Waters, director: "I just dug up the shooting script and it says, 'Karen takes a scrap book of a shelf.' That's all the description that existed. That and 'this photo with this caption.' There was nothing descriptive about it, so it's something me and the art department had to come up with from scratch.
"I thought it had to look like a yearbook that would sit on the bookshelf near the yearbooks and a parent wouldn't look at. So we gave it a yearbook-looking cover. And it had to be pink -- the obvious color choice for Regina. Then when we were talking about what to put it in it, my prop guy Vic [Rigler] said, 'Let's make it look like those kidnapping videos.' Then, unlike a lot of movies where, when you're reading things off the page, you rarely create the prop before you start shooting, you get the book and save the inserts for the end of the shoot and with digital you change everything you shot, this was a case where we had so much stuff, like the freakout over the book and pages that get spread around, that we had to get the damn book done before shooting. That was a lot of pressure. Myself and Tina [Fey, writer-actress] micromanaged it to death."
Cary White, production designer: "I take a method approach with art directing. You get into the characters. You do their environments, the props. Being a straight man doesn't help here, but I did Lonesome Dove and research for that, and I did research for Mean Girls. This was after [director Mark Waters and I] did Freaky Friday, and for that, Jamie Lee Curtis had a teenage daughter and she invited me over to take pictures as research. The faces in the book, we had to have clearance for everyone in that book, so there were all these extras, some in featured roles, and you do a photo session with those folks, not professional -- the right camera, and sometimes terrible light."
Waters: "We had a big fight with the MPAA. One of the best jokes in the movie was in the book. It said, 'Amber D'Alessio masturbated with a frozen hot dog.' Later on when it's revealed, she says, 'Masturbated with a hot dog? That was one time!' The ratings board wouldn't let us use that. So we changed it to 'made love to a frozen hot dog.' That was still an R. Then it read 'made out with a frozen hot dog.' They said it couldn't be frozen. So then it became 'made out with a hot dog.' Not as funny. Now we dug our heels in the sand [against the censorship of] the girl at the assembly who says, 'vagina.' We wrote treatises about how it was sexist and body shaming. Somehow we couldn't say this but Will Ferrell could have an erect penis in Anchorman. They let us keep that joke but we had to sacrifice Amber D'Alessio's hot dog."
16. The boombox, Say Anything... (1989)
Barry Bedig, property master: "Finding the right prop can be difficult sometimes. The object of the game is to show the director a lot of stuff. I did a Herb Ross film, I think Steel Magnolias, and we had to find a piece of luggage, so we showed off 150 pieces of luggage. The more you show the more they can't say no. They have to pick something. So I found a lot of boomboxes. Cameron picked one. And yeah, it was a working boom box, it played. Actually I think the one we got was rented. Just came with a bunch of stuff."
Cameron Crowe, director (in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, 2002): "[The boombox scene] was the last thing shot on the last day with the last moment of sunlight. John [Cusack] felt that Lloyd was kowtowing too much by holding up the boombox, and that it was too subservient a move. He didn't love the scene, he didn't quite understand it yet -- he certainly does now -- and he wanted to be more laid-back.
"My whole argument was, 'Be defiant with the holding of the boombox.' The last take -- it was a place across the street from a 7-Eleven on Lankershim in the Valley -- he held up the boombox, and on his face is the whole story of the character -- the love of the girl, and, I think, John's feeling that it was a little too subservient but he was going to do it anyway."
John Cusack, actor (Lloyd Dobler) (in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, 2002): "I wanted to just have the boombox be on top of the car and him sitting on the roof. So I finally did it, but I did it without a look of longing and adoration and love. It was a different kind of feel than either one of us had originally planned."
15. The boombox, Do the Right Thing (1989)
Kevin Ladson, prop master: "There was a discussion about what Radio Raheem would carry. Spike picked out the largest boombox you could get. I was charged with dressing the boombox. I had a piece of kente cloth to wrap around the handle, and I cut up pieces of the Public Enemy album and put it on the side… Danny Aiello was supposed to go all out and destroy that boombox [at the end of the film]. You figured it would be one take but the total was three. He just wailed on it [but] it was a solid, solid, solid boombox."
14. The golden ticket, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Julie Dawn Cole, actress (Veruca Salt): "They were made of a kind of foil paper, I suppose, a foil-covered paper. They were sort of crunchy, but more substantial than a piece of cooking foil. You had to be a little bit careful. The props men would hand them to you with great reverence: 'Here is your golden ticket.'
"We got to handle them twice, because we got them when we found the ticket, in whatever scene that was, in September 1970, and then when we went through the factory gates. As we were going through the gates, it was always like, Be very careful and don't lose this. You're sitting there, holding this thing for ages during shooting, getting a bit bored, thinking, Oh, I better not crease this too much. So I think the one going through the factory gates, by the time it got to the gates, was probably a little dog-eared. That's why they had spares. The actual going through the factory gates, that whole scene, I think we were a week in shooting it, a week of holding onto this one piece of paper.
"The props men would appear and disappear mysteriously, a bit like Slugworth, with the tickets. I would imagine there were a couple hundred made. I had about 10 at one time, and now I still have one framed with a Wonka Bar. I don't think the movie industry recognized the importance of props back then. Nobody did. They were just things that were in the movie. Movies didn't have this longevity and cult status yet. It's still a fairly young industry.
"But this prop has gone down in pop history. People refer to it as, 'Well, he got the golden ticket!' If you hear that on a program, you know where it came from, from Willy Wonka. It's turned into a catch phrase. It's extraordinary."
13. The umbrella, Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Gene Kelly, director-actor-choreographer (in Gene Kelly: A Biography, 1974): "I was running through the lyrics of the song to see if they suggested anything other than the obvious when, at the end of the first chorus, I suddenly added the word 'dancing' to the lyric -- so that now it ran 'I'm singin' and dancin' in the rain.' Instead of just singing the number, I'd dance it as well. Suddenly the mist began to clear, because a dance tagged onto a song suggested a positive and joyous emotion… All that was left for me to do was to provide a routine that expressed the good mood I was in. And to help me with this I thought of the fun children have splashing about in rain puddles and decided to become a kid again during the number. Having decided that, the rest of the choreography was simple. What wasn't so simple was coordinating my umbrella with the beats of the music, and not falling down in the water and breaking every bone in my body. I was also a bit concerned that I'd catch pneumonia with all that water pouring down on me, particularly as the day we began to shoot the number I had a very bad cold, and kept rushing out into the sun to keep warm whenever I could."
12. The baby carriage, Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Sergei Eisenstein, director (in the essay "Methods of Montage," 1929): "In this [Odessa steps sequence] the rhythmic drum of the soldiers' feet as they descend the steps violates all metrical demands. Unsynchronized with the beat of the cutting, this drumming comes in off-beat each time, and the shot itself is entirely different in its solution with each of these appearances. The final pull of tension is supplied by the transfer of rhythm -- a new kind of downward movement -- the next intensity level of the same activity -- the baby-carriage rolling down the steps. The carriage functions as a directly progressing accelerator of the advancing feet. The stepping descent passes into rolling descent."
11. The jetpack, Thunderball (1965)
Bill Suitor, rocket belt pilot (on his website): "I was James Bond's stunt double during the shooting in France 1965. My colleague Gordon Yeager and me both flew three flights. Later it was edited to one flight."
"I began flying at Bell Aerosystems (later Bell Aerospace) in 1964 at the age of 19. The rocket belt had been developed by Bell for the US Army and part of their contract stipulated that they had to train a young man of 'draft age' with no previous flying experience. It just so happened that the inventor of the belt, Wendell Moore, was a family friend and neighbour. I was an architecture student at the time and not very happy, so when he said, 'Hey kid, wanna job?' I jumped at the chance."
10. The leg lamp, A Christmas Story (1983)
Reuben Freed, production designer (in an interview with Ohio Magazine, 2013): "The term 'leg lamp' is Jean [Shepherd]’s invention.… Bob told me he wanted The Old Man to be in the window with the lamp, and that it needed to be big enough to be seen from across the street. So, it had to be the size of a human limb. I got a mannequin leg and asked costume designer Mary McLeod for input. She brought me a single pump, and I added fishnet stockings because that’s what a bad girl would wear. For the lampshade, I drew on an image from a comic book that had a '40s look to it. That was the easy part. The difficulty was creating something that would break on command, that we could have more than one of, that could be electrified and stand by itself."
9. The bone club, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Arthur C. Clarke, writer (in an interview with Playboy, 1986): "[Stanley and I] were walking back to the studio in London and, for some reason, Stanley had a broomstick in his hand. He threw it up into the air, in a playful way, and he kept doing it, and it was at that moment that the idea of making the broomstick into the bone that gets turned into [an orbiting space bomb] came about. I was afraid it was going to hit me in the head. So later we filmed it with some sort of bone. That shot was the only one in the movie done on location. It was shot just outside the studio. There was a platform built and, just beneath it, all the London buses were going by."
8. The Heart of the Ocean, Titanic (1997)
Peter Lamont, production designer: "I worked with a buyer, Ronald Quelch, and when we did On Her Majesty's Secret Service, he knew John Asprey, who ran Asprey [& Garrard Limited]. On [Majesty's] we wanted a vanity case, and we were allowed to borrow one, but if we marked it we bought it. No arguments. When we showed [director] Peter Hunt, there was a smaller box inside the case that he loved, and we mocked it up in the studio. It was awful. So John Asprey said, 'Get me the imitation crocodile skin and we will make them for you,' which we did. He fitted all the capsules inside. They did a beautiful job of them. Then in Octopussy we had the Faberge egg, and again, Ronald went to John, and he made them for us. So obviously when I was on Titanic, we wanted the 'Heart of the Ocean,' and I spoke to Ronnie and he spoke to John Asprey, and he made it. It was a one-off.
"For Jim [Cameron, director], everything had to look as much like Titanic as possible. There were so few photographs of the real Titanic, and a lot was copied after Olympic, a sister ship. I remember the first set we did was the parlor suite. It was a real struggle to get it ready. We put the last screw in the wall to hang the bracket with the lamp that came from Mexico City that night. Jim breezed in and said, 'Looks right. Smells right.'
"The necklace wasn't based on an old design, but it did need to be heart-shaped. The thing is, it was a rather deep stone. If you have a diamond, they're always faceted, not cut off flat, because they won't get any reflections. It was rather expensive and had to be made beautifully. We used a semi-precious stone and, when you looked at it, it had to have all the definition. Couldn't be flat. Then behind the stone there's a little cage that protects the stone from being damaged, and we had to have a jeweler remove it because the stone was quite big. Then a facsimile was made right at the very end so it could be thrown into the water."
7. The origami unicorn, Blade Runner (1982)
David Snyder, art director: "David Q. Quick, one of the property masters, told me that the late Terry E. Lewis, who was the head property master, commissioned the origami unicorn(s) and had them outsourced via his buyer, Arthur Shippee. David said they were constructed by, unbeknownst to him, an origami artist and Arthur delivered a box full (probably a few dozen as they were fragile). David accepted. They were loaded into a specially marked box in the prop truck. Although the idea was to have the unicorns appear to have been constructed of throwaway chewing gum wrappers, they were made of a heavier gage metal foil due to their delicacy."
6. Wilson, Cast Away (2000)
Robin L. Miller, property master: "Wilson was in the script because, as I remember, [writer William Broyles Jr.] was down in Mexico and literally found a volleyball on the beach. Later we were told by psychologists that people, when they're stranded and in moments of isolation, usually choose an inanimate object to talk to because they can't handle being alone. The odd part of this was that the name 'Wilson' was in the script, and so I approached Wilson the company to make me volleyballs. Wilson wasn't interested, at that point. Moviemaking had nothing to do with them. But I was very fortunate to find a woman there who, after I explained I was working with an Academy-Award-winning actor and an Academy-Award-winning director, the ball was called Wilson, for godsakes, and I needed blank ones, so I could make the face with Tom's handprint. She got me 20 -- only 20.
"I blew through 20 in a heartbeat. He went through all these incarnations, plus ones I could use for take after take after take. There were only five [hero props] used in the movie for up close shots.The aging on him changes over the course of the movie. His hair gets wrecked by the end. But we made them all last. I guarded them with my life. We were in Fiji, and then traveling to some island an hour and a half away from Fiji. The other nightmare was all those FedEx boxes -- they fell apart in the humidity, so for all those takes, we were gluing them back together take after take. They were cardboard turning into soggy graham crackers. But the Wilsons were locked up. I practically took them to bed with me. They took a long time to fabricate, with the hair and the aging.
"When Tom made the original one, I put red tempera paint on his hand and he made the pattern on the ball, not on camera. He tried it and... it didn't look great. So we did it again and again and again, and when we got one with enough room for the face, that became the template. We redid it on camera, and then we knew where we were headed because we came up with the concept three months earlier: how far his fingers needed to spread, what lines it needed to reach on the ball. Then the others were all hand-sewn, the hair was put in, and a scenic painter made five perfect matches, and then we had others for second, third, and fourth unit. Wilson had to be on every raft, and I wasn't going to give them my best ones!
"The challenge was they all had to match. Towards the very end, the one that sinks, it's so sad and so dirty. The hair is messed up. The one that ultimately sank, there were two (and remember, I only had five), but the effects department had to weight them to get pulled underwater. That was special -- it aged the most. I don't think we did many takes of that scene. It was the end of his journey."
5. The Maltese Falcon, The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Bryan Burrough, writer of "The Mystery of the Maltese Falcon," Vanity Fair (2016): "One studio memo said John Huston himself had been involved in commissioning the statuette for the film. He had contracted an artist to make it for $75."
"During the 1940s, [Black Dahlia murder suspect Dr. George Hodel] had run in a circle of celebrated artists and filmmakers that included director John Huston and the noted Surrealist Man Ray. According to the book, one of Hodel’s closest friends was Fred Sexton, an artist who was also a friend of Huston’s. In a single aside, the book made the claim that Huston had Sexton sculpt the original Maltese Falcon.
"It was the first time [anyone] had seen any artist’s name associated with the Falcon’s creation. But that wasn’t the only thing the book had to say about Fred Sexton. It was [Black Dahlia Avenger author] Steve Hodel’s theory not only that his father had killed Elizabeth Short but that his accomplice in a series of other unsolved murders during the 1940s had been none other than Fred Sexton."
4. The hoverboard, Back to the Future Part II (1989)
John Bell, visual effects art director: "[Director] Bob Zemeckis and [screenwriter] Bob Gale -- they're the guys who came up with the thing. I had to visualize what they envisioned. I was working at [Industrial Light & Magic] in 1986 and the project hadn't officially started yet. But our management came in and said, 'Bob Zemeckis wants to shoot Back to the Future II, we go to 2015, and there's something called a hoverboard. Come up with some ideas.' So I took about a month or so and just started doing random images of different parts of Hill Valley and scenes with hoverboards. We sent down slides to him -- because he was now fully involved with Roger Rabbit -- and we didn't hear back for a long time. The next time we heard from him was the fall of 1988. I got pulled into a meeting with Rick Carter, who was the production designer on the film, and he had seen the work I did in '86 and said, 'Can we get John to come down to our art department down at Universal Studios for just a couple weeks?' So I went on loan for what was supposed to be a couple weeks... and wound up being there for four to five months.
"Before I was on loan in the department in Los Angeles, I worked with Steve Gawley and Richard Miller in the [ILM] Highland model shop on the early designs for the hoverboard, which at the time were bigger, more like skimboards or snowboards -- bigger, wider, almost like a truncated surfboard. And they had a lot of stuff attached to them, because I'd been paying attention to a lot of skateboard culture in the mid-'80s. You notice how much they modify and personalize their boards, mainly stickers. So I thought in 2015, if these things could fly, maybe they'd put wings on them, different jet engines, they'd soup them up like a hot rod. These early boards were super complex, but when you start getting into production, and you realize they have to make multiples of all these things, it just got too cost prohibitive. The silver lining is that the final version of the hoverboard is so simplistic in its shape, with crazy graphics, that the magic is the power inside of it. You don't understand it, but you enjoy using it. It's like a cell phone.
"Rick Carter and I would chuckle about it. We had to put a different kind of thinking cap on this one. We were going 30 years in the future to a place called the Cafe '80s, but we're in the 1980s. So what was going to be relevant 30 years from now? Luckily the '80s were so graphic driven, so colorful, it made that part of it easier. There's that neon pink. In the 1984 Olympics you had pink and turquoise and peachy gold, and neon was a big driving fashion force at the time. At one point, Swatch was going to be proposed with doing sponsorship for the hoverboard when they were looking at branding for the thing, so we did some drawings with Swatch, and they were bold with colors. But you had to think what would resonate."
3. The horse head, The Godfather (1972)
Al Ruddy, producer: "The studio sent us a stuffed head from one of the Western sets. The leather was so old, the fucking thing split. Needless to say, the head arrives on the studio. It's unacceptable. So Francis [Ford Coppola, director] and the art director went shopping for a head at a slaughterhouse. The horse had emphysema and was going to be killed anyway. The horse we featured in the movie wasn't the same one as the head -- it was a horse that looked just like him.
"John Marley, the guy who played the movie producer, was a pain in the ass because he was a complainer every time he was on screen. Now, we go to shoot the famous scene. We're shooting out on Long Island on a winter day, which is cold, dark, and rainy outside. We're down at an elegant old stone mansion, and John is wearing his silk coat and his pajamas, standing by the bed. Now, four grips walk in carrying this huge metal case. He has no idea what the hell's inside. I'm not exaggerating -- it was probably about 6 to 8-ft square with the latches on each corner. He stands by the bed, and they lower this thing on the floor. They take off the four latches, and he almost faints. He sees this fucking horse's head with the tongue hanging out. Oh, Jesus Christ!
"The next thing we know, the head is on the bed, on the yellow sheets. So you know, the horse's head was frozen with dry ice, so it was fucking cold. Francis figures, 'This is my shot to get him.' They put all the phony blood. John refuses to stretch his legs out. He's got his legs pulled in so it doesn't hit the horse's head. Francis kept telling him to straighten out. His scream was blood-curdling. What you hear in the movie was not done later on. We were laughing at a certain point. We were fucking howling. He was freaking out. When that scene was over, he ran off the set, throwing the bloody shit on the floor. He was gone for the rest of the day."
2. "Rosebud," Citizen Kane (1941)
Robert L. Carringer, from his book The Making of Citizen Kane (1984): "The original Rosebud sled... [was] custom-built in the RKO property department. It was thirty-four inches long, made entirely of balsa wood, and fastened together with wood dowels and glue. Actually, three identical sleds were built; two were burned in the filming."
Orson Welles, director (press statement, 1941): "The most basic of all ideas was that of a search for the true significance of the man's apparently meaningless dying words. Kane was raised without a family. He was snatched from his mother's arms in early childhood. His parents were a bank. From the point of view of the psychologist, my character had never made what is known as 'transference' from his mother. Hence his failure with his wives. In making this clear in the course of the picture, it was my intent to lead the thoughts of my audience closer and closer to the solution of the enigma of his dying words. These were 'Rosebud.' The device of the picture calls for a newspaperman (who didn't know Kane) to interview people who knew him very well. None had ever heard of 'Rosebud.' Actually, as it turns out, 'Rosebud' is the trade name of a cheap little sled on which Kane was playing the day he was taken from his home and his mother. In his subconscious it represented the simplicity, the comfort, above all the lack of responsibility in his home, and it also stood for his mother's love which Kane never lost."
1. The lightsaber, Star Wars (1977)
Roger Christian, set decorator: "When I saw Ralph McQuarrie’s painting, and George’s description of the lightsaber, I knew this would be the symbol of the film. It was obvious. He had invented something that everybody in the world would want.
"But I couldn’t find anything that felt right. It drove me mad. We had to get this prepared, and I was getting worried. The special effects made some [flashlight]-like ones but they just didn’t cut it. George rejected them. I was only looking for a found object, and I couldn’t quite find the weight that I knew this handle had to have.
"In desperation one day,I was making Luke’s binoculars, I found two different camera parts and I stuck them together with super glue. I needed two lenses to stick on the front and there was a photography shop in London which we always rented all our camera equipment for movies for so I went there and was buying a couple lenses and then I asked the owner, ‘Listen, have you got anything that might be interesting -- I need a kind of a handle for a weapon. Have you got anything I could look at?’ And he said, ‘Look over there, there are some boxes that are all covered in dust.’ Literally the first box I pulled out, there were these Graflex [camera] handles, there were about six of them in the box. And this would be like going in slow motion, the music is rising -- I took them out and it was like finding the Holy Grail. They were beautiful objects. They even had a red firing button on it.
"I got in the car and raced back to the studios. I thought, I have to have a handle, I took the same section of rubber I put around the sterling, stuck it as a handle around it. I found a piece of calculator where by the numbers were magnified, and it was like bubble strip -- it perfectly fitted the grip. And I just held it in my hand and thought, this is it. I called George and said, you better have a look. He came and took it in his hand and smiled. And that’s more than approval with George. You’ve hit gold if you get a smile.
"[To make the blade,] a friend of mine who I was doing some art exhibitions with, we painted projection material onto wood and we were using it as a reflector … We took a wooden dowel, drilled out a few of the Graflex light sabers that I had made, stuck it in the end, and he put it slightly off center, the motor, so the blade would give a little bit of a wobble. It picked up light, enough to rotoscope some of the scenes … So the one I made [cost] about $12."
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