Creative Media Skills- Prop making Course – part 1 – experience with Francesco Fabiani at Pinewood Studios – 08-04-2019

Pinewood Studios Entrance

What an experience! I managed to get onto this great prop making course at Creative Media Skills in London, not expecting to turn up to Pinewood Studios!

Once in their comprehensive security it was cool to be able to wander around and see all of the building of sets and moving of large kit in the massive complex (but aside from the photo from outside, you are not allowed to take photos inside).

The course was geared towards learning about casting and sculpting for the animation course at work and the practicalities of the week are laid out in the next post – Creative Media Skills- Prop making Course – part 2 – practicalities

But this is my experience, looking more in depth at what I made and the experience and knowledge I gained.

First of all we were introduced to our tutor for the week, Francesco Fabiani,

Francesco is a professional prosthetics sculptor and has sculpted prosthetics for some of the worlds largest productions such as Star Wars, The Mummy and many other block busters whilst working at the legendary KM Effects 

Francesco Fabiani

Francesco showing us how to make the biscuit foam – this was the only time that this desk was this clean!

Our first task was to sketch out our idea for a prop, then we went round the room and Francesco tweaked our ideas to work within the course and the resources we had.

I wanted to make a prop head, which although wasn’t strictly a prop, he said I could try it as it would use a box mould, very common for prop making. A few weeks previously I had gone along to a sketching network evening and come up with a character and this is where I started from.

The first practical task was to make a base ‘armature’ to sculpt onto, so the model didn’t end up being solid sculpt, both costly and impractical.

Francesco favoured using Biscuit Foam, a 2 part foam, that we all mixed a batch of and then cut out our base shape.

Biscuit Foam after mixing – it nearly went over the top!

The carving did of course have the restrictions of the beaker shape, but it worked fine and by the end of the first day I was fairly happy with my little character.

I enjoyed this part almost as much as all the other stuff, just being given time to sit and concentrate and sculpt, with everyone else in the room doing something different, it was lovely.

If there was one thing that I wasn’t happy about it was the hair, it was too blocky and I was having trouble getting to grips with sculpting it better.

So the next day I was able to talk to Francesco and he helped me with some technique tips and brought over one of his models to demo how he did hair, so there was something to copy – his model was amazing of course…

Francesco Fabiani Sculpt

Francesco Fabiani Sculpture – using Monster Clay

so with his beautiful model in Front of me I tried to recreate the texture and movement of hair within my own model.

and it was a vast improvement, it looked much better and although it felt as though I hadn’t done much, I was really happy with how the hair now looked.

We then moved onto adding some texture with a variety of clever techniques, such as crinkling paper and essentially ‘rag-rolling’ the surface of the skin, or using a sculpting tool through layers of plastic to soften the edges and make more subtle marks. The Plastiline we were using to sculpt with could also be heated with a heat gun to smooth the surface.

So in the end we had all made our various starting models, from hearts, to carnival masks and pieces of fruit.

The next process was to make our mould. First we all had to make our individual moulds, mine was a box mould, so literally had to make and secure my head onto the wooden slat and form the box sides out of old cardboard which I then hotglue-gunned to the baseboard.

mixed up the two-part silicon rubber mix, poured it in – crossed our fingers that it didn’t seep out and then leave to ‘go-off’. (about 2 hours)

After a longer lunch we all went back to see what we’d got!


Inside the mould

The mould looked really good, the hair detail looked like it was there, but I had a slight problem with the complex overhang of the nose and lip, so the weakness in the biscuit foam base meant it broke, but at least the mould was good and I could rework the sculpt to keep.

So after making sure the mould was cleaned out of any bits of plastiline that got caught we could now cast in a variety of mediums. First was a hard white resin, which as it had a longer set time, I managed to get into all of the awkward areas, so got a successful cast with this, but it is a brittle material, with a white cream colour, which you could dye beforehand and some others used a metal powder dusted into their mould before pouring in the resin, to get a metal finish to their casts.


It was also obvious that I hadn’t cleaned my mould as well as I thought so I did do another cleaner cast in the resin at the end of the course.IMG_4506

Then we tried Black-Gun Foam, a soft and squishy material which gave a good smooth surface, but it works so fast, that the few of us that tried had varying success, with the foam not always getting into every nook and cranny. The Black-Gun Foam was only used to make the skin, the inner cavity was then filled with medium soft foam.

I was very interested in using just the softer foams with regards to students at work using it for model/puppet making for animation, so that was the next thing I tried. Francesco warned me that it wouldn’t work well, but I wanted to do it, so I could see and have a model to show students what they would end up with if they did it.

The soft white foam was so squishy it would not be firm enough to use, it didn’t capture detail and the surface of the foam cast was also too porous to use by itself, so you would need to put a skin of some sorts over it, which really negates the point of casting it from a model and carving it out of block foam as we already do would be just as good.

One of the other students work: Mask made using metal powders, hard resin and finished with glass paints. This used the jacket mould method.

So by the end of the week we had made casts in several materials, learnt how to sculpt, make moulds and with the variety of models in the room I got wide ranging experience of what works and doesn’t really work and the problems presented with various methods, box, 2-part, jacket mould, etc.

My biggest tip? Make sure the two parts you are mixing are correct – I put Part A of one foam and Part B of another together and then lost 2 hours cleaning out the gloopy mess that I had put in my lovely mould! so Check, Measure and Check again before mixing!

Whilst waiting for casts etc to go-off I also carved a hand for fun!

It’s official, I went I mould, I casted!

Wish I could do one of these every year, would highly recommend the course content – although their admin was all over the place!

I also know that Francesco was a last minute replacement for their usual tutor, so the content was not the norm, in fact it sounded as though it was normally a little restricted as everyone usually makes the same thing… so for me this was a far more valuable experience!