Bamboo grows extensively throughout China and South East Asia so it is no wonder it has found many uses in everyday life. Scaffolding for buildings is just one example of the many applications of this versatile material. This example in the photo below was found in the Chinese city of Shanghai.
Cultural aspects of bamboo
Bamboo has deep artistic and cultural roots in the Chinese psyche so it is little wonder that it must possess some remarkable qualities. It features prominently in Chinese painting and decoration. Versatile, light, strong and (more importantly) cheap it is still used as building scaffolding in some of the world’s largest cities today.
More disguised uses of bamboo can be found here.
Multi-storey bamboo scaffolding
How safe is this?
Dodo bird reconstruction
Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame gives a wonderful presentation on the process and challenges he encountered making a Dodo bird skeleton. It gives an insight into the mind of the man as well as some good creative tips. Some think he is being obsessive in the detail he embarks upon in making the Dodo bird skeleton however the questions he asks himself are typical of what a prop maker needs to consider in the course of their work.
The Dodo bird and Maltese Falcon prop
As well as making the Dodo bird skeleton Adam also discusses the making of a copy of the Maltese Falcon. A Maltese Falcon statuette was the primary prop in the 1941 Humphrey Bogart film of the same name which has become a cinema classic.
Rubbish bin disguised as a rock
The Chinese invest a lot of effort to disguise everyday items to look like they are part of the natural environment. An example are the steel safety railings on paths through National Parks that are disguised to look as if they are made from rough timber poles. The Chinese go to a lot of effort in their National Parks to keep them looking as natural as possible. This creative disguise technique is used extensively for theatrical sets and it is great to see these techniques used this way.
Rubbish bin disguise
One cute example of the use of theatrical techniques in real life I discovered at Maobitou (or cat’s nose) at the southern most tip of Taiwan. It was this rubbish bin disguised as a rock. It’s a great idea but makes looking for a place to put your rubbish a challenge for your observational skills and a major exercise in lateral thinking.
Typical modern Chinese house - seriously
The bus trip from Mount Huangshan to Hangzhou is a great way to see the Chinese countryside. The one thing that I found curious was the stainless steel spires atop many of the houses we passed by. They consist of two or three stainless steel spheres of different sizes mounted on a spire. Some fancier versions sported rings around the larger sphere like an armillary sphere. They remind me of the space-age Oriental Pearl TV tower in Shanghai.
I asked our guide if they represented anything and he told me they were just decoration for the houses. They are such a striking addition to an already striking house design (to Western eyes!) I am curious if there is some other meaning attached to them rather than just decorative.
The photo above shows a spire on a house which is typical of many of the modern houses that abound in the Chinese countryside.
I recently discovered similar decoration used in Morocco on the minaret towers adjacent mosques. The spires are called jamours. I think it likely this was the inspiration for the decoration and that the owners are Muslim. I would be interested to hear what others think. Better still would be to hear from someone who has one installed on their home.
Examples of ice ray designs
One of the more intriguing design groups described by Daniel Sheets Dye in his definitive work “A Grammar of Chinese Lattice” (1937) is ice ray lattice. Unlike most lattice designs ice ray lattice has no horizontal or vertical line elements. This makes it most effective as a grille or screen where people don’t want to feel like they are in a cage which can happen with horizontal or vertical bars.
Origins of the ice ray design
“To appreciate the designs in this division, one needs to see ice forming on quiet water on a cold night. Straight lines meet longer lines, making unique and beautiful patterns. The Chinese term this ice line, or lines formed by cracking ice; I have described it as the result of molecular strain in shrinking or breaking, but more recent observations and photographs seem to prove that it is a conventionalisation of ice-formation which has become traditional”
(Dye, “A Grammar of Chinese Lattice” 1949 pp298).
Ice forming on a pond
In his 1977 paper, “Ice-ray : A note on the generation of Chinese lattice designs” Stiny did the first analytic exercise with shape grammars which he had invented with Gips in 1976. The grammar he laid out in this paper set the standards for all shape grammars that followed. Shape grammar is beyond the scope of this blog and the reader is encouraged to further research elsewhere if so inclined. I confine myself to the aesthetic aspect of the design and its application as decorative grilles and security screens.
Ice ray design on sedan chair in Jing Hai Hall, Xidi
Small screen using the ice ray design
Circular ice ray window in the Lingering Garden, Suzhou
The ice ray lattice design is readily adapted to contemporary decor and gives a refreshing relief from vertical bars when used as a security grille. Circular ice ray designs are also interesting and can make fine features on otherwise bland walls.
Smeagal (aka Gollum)
I recently saw many feature film props when I visited the Weta Cave in Miramar, Wellington. Miramar is a suburb of Wellington which is the heart of the film industry in New Zealand. The Weta Cave is a showroom of some of the film props and creatures that the company has created for movies including “King Kong” and “The Lord of the Rings”.
Precious film props
Walking in you are greeted by a life size model of Smeagal from “The Lord of the Rings”. He is every bit as creepy in the flesh as he appears on screen. There is a wide range of film props and fine sculpture work available that you can purchase. Many are very collectable and surprisingly affordable. The skill of the craftspeople is really extraordinary and the attention to detail mind numbing.
If you are in Wellington is well worth a visit. Entry is free and there is a fascinating 20 minute video presentation of behind the scenes film props work that the company has been involved with over the years. You can also purchase top quality sculptures of your favourite characters if you so desire.
Devastator Star Destroyer
I checked out the Star Wars exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum at Darling Harbour here in Sydney today. What a fantastic exhibition! A great mix of Star Wars movie models, props, costumes and informative “behind the scenes” video presentations and lots of *hands on* experimental stuff for the kids. I had more than my fair share on the practical hovercraft demonstration ride.
Star Wars props
It was fascinating looking at some of the props and the detail in the spacecraft models, particularly the original ones that were used before CGI became all the rage. Many of the original Star Wars props were on display and it just goes to show what can be achieved with a big bucket of money.
If your in Sydney it’s worth a look but you better be quick because it finishes at the end of April. The exhibition then moves to Melbourne and opens on 4th June until 3rd November 2009.
MAKE is a magazine that is devoted to DIY technology projects. It contains lots of interesting projects and information that is invaluable for prop making for both on and off the stage. Many ideas and techniques presented can be used for making of props and scenery for the theatre or for decorative props for the home and garden.
Prop making information
You can subscribe to the MAKE magazine through Amazon or from their website. Their blog has many interesting videos and prop related posts to explore as well.
“MAKE is a quarterly publication from O’Reilly for those who just can’t stop tinkering, disassembling, re-creating, and inventing cool new uses for the technology in our lives. It’s the first do-it-yourself magazine dedicated to the incorrigible and chronically incurable technology enthusiast in all of us. MAKE celebrates your right to tweak, hack, and bend technology any way you want.”