Life-like Cars

Flyboy

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Mar 14, 2006
Location
Chicago, IL
I'm not really sure what category this thread falls into, but here is my dillemma: my university is getting ready to produce Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music this winter. I am usually the ALD/ME on most of our productions, but seeing as we don't have any students interested in scenic design, the director has asked me to design and build two "life-like, full scale Model-A cars." I still haven't gotten a script yet (will hopefully get one next week), so I don't know exactly how the cars are supposed to be used. All I do know is that:
  • They need to appear as realistic as possible to the naked eye (in a house with max. cap. 300)
  • They may OR may not have people sitting in them
  • They do NOT have to be automated, but
  • They do have to be lightweight enough to move easily/silently
Again, I will know more of the details when I have a script (I hadn't even heard of this one until now). Since we do have a limited metal shop, and a fairly qualified welder, I've so far been thinking about welding a steel frame, then using a Blue Styrofoam (I don't know the technical "grade" of foam that is, but I hope most people know what I'm talking about) applique to give the actual shape of the car. After this, dutchman and paint. If anyone has any other (read: "better") suggestions, they would be greatly appreciated. Thanks alot.
 

taylorjacobs

Member
Joined
Dec 19, 2006
we had to do the same thing in a production a few years ago. we used our a-frame ladder base as the base of the car. went to the junkyard and got real fendors tires mirrors etc. made a masonite frame and a grill out of plywood then attached the junkyard items painted it etc. it turned out really nice im looking for a picture but cant seem to find it. the actors stood up in it and moved it i.e. the flintstones.
hope this helps
 

Crewguy7

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Nov 27, 2003
Location
Champaign, IL
All I can say is.... don't do this.

Oh high school.... Yes we ducted out the exhaust, no it wasn't worth the effort... at all.

I like the styrofoam idea, I just wonder if thats a time-effective way of shaping it. I'm not sure if I'm repeating what you said, but a combination of foam strips to get guides for heights covered with hardware cloth. Than you could cover the hardware cloth in muslin, effectively paper mache-ing it.
 

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Van

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Jul 27, 2006
Location
Portland, Or.
Wow ! what a great project!
I'll throw a couple of ideas out.

I love the idea of using foam. I'm a foam fanatic, Standard "blue foam" or extruded polystyrene is very easy to carve and I'd be happy to give you some tips. I currently am carving a 14' tall tree using blue foam, "great Stuff" polyurethane, over a plywood armature. There are a ton of ways to get a "perfect" car like finisfh on these materials as well.

I also like the idea of utilizing stock car parts ; fenders, hoods, doors, but that might take a bit more time and a lot more work to make things fit.

Perhaps when it comes to automation you could find an old golf cart ? use that as a base and build your frame on top of it. Or part it out and use all the drives and batteries as a base for your own frame / drive train.

It will be easier when you get a better idea of how "real" and what scale you need to work in.
again I'd be happy to lend advice etc. This project combines a couple of my passions, Theatre, spfx, cars and a challenge. Like I said this sounds like a blast !
 

gafftaper

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Seattle, WA
I see you are in Cheney... You at Eastern? Anyway try contacting the Seattle Rep (Dana Perreault is the TD: [email protected] ). They just did Great Gatsby and they built an old car for that show. Who knows... it might still be around. I got a brief peak inside the car on a back stage tour. It appeared to be basically just a standard square tubing frame covered with plywood and then some sheet metal on top. It was beautiful and didn't look THAT hard to build. Dana is a really nice guy and I bet would be glad to help you with some tips or let you talk directly to the guy in the shop who actually did the work.

Good luck.
 

Van

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Jul 27, 2006
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Portland, Or.
Ah Good contact to know ! Dana is great he and I have chatted several times on a couple of issues. Good advice there Gaff. Eastern ? My old MC is from Eastern.
 

gafftaper

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Dana is really cool. I took my tech class to a student matinée and he met us afterward for a back stage tour to specifically discuss all the tech. He's really nice and that was the best theater tour ever.
 

jwl868

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Aug 31, 2004
Location
Pittsburgh, PA
I second van’s use of foam. I had to make just the front end of a car for a dance number. Limited budget and I needed to meet the criteria of the dancers dancing/standing on and leaping off of the hood. The frame was a generic platform of 2x4s and plywood, but with as little slope to cut down the boxiness. I used a couple layers (wish I’d have used 3 layers) of the rigid pink insulation glued together with gorilla glue. (Learned the hard way about solvent glue…..) Cut and sanded it to get the curved edges. Made the bumper and grill from “chrome”-coated paper over styrofoam. The headlights and parking lights were battery powered “disc” closet lights. To get the foam panels on and off the wood platform/frame quickly, I used Velcro. (The car did not have to move around the stage, so no wheels/casters on the frame. On the other, we mounted casters on the back side of the frame so that we could just tip it on end and wheel it off into our limited wing space.)

Go with foam.

By the way, make sure you know what type/model car director really wants [Does he/she know their cars or were they shooting from the hip with “Model A”]. Looking at picture of a Ford Model A, the wheels, running boards [that people can stand on], and door(s) that open may be as challenging as the car body.

Good luck.


Joe
 

PhantomD

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Mar 3, 2006
Location
Brisbane, Australia
We've always used a real car, driven right down between the audience :grin:

Most recently we used a four-wheeler bike with great effect, especially the horn when the King of blah arrived blah blah blah blah.
 

Flyboy

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Joined
Mar 14, 2006
Location
Chicago, IL
To all who replied, thank you very much. I regret to inform you, however, that due to unforeseen budgetary circumstances, A Little Night Music has been canceled. Needless to say, I am rather disappointed (seeing as this whole project was going to be my baby), but again, I thank all of you who responded with your ideas. If nothing else, this online, virtual conversation has been enlightening. Thanks Again.
 

saxman0317

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Mar 30, 2006
Location
western NY
For grease we used a real car meets oxy-ocectolene torch.... Work pretty good. After gutting everything but the body work and jury rigging up the "suspension", removing the floor, everything inside, and keeping it all together with wires we got it under 600 pounds. Worker great...with some doing we were able to make it A) roll around on a "custom chasis" and B) with some fancy work we made it so we could clip and fly it in and out in about a minute and a half...double cables for safty!...but heck, its lighter than our main curtain.
 

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