Building Props from Scratch

For our TV series Black Forest Witch we created a Wizard Staff, a well-known type of Prop in fantasy circles. While there are countless tutorials on building props out there, we were not quite satisfied. There were some good ideas, but most of them were meant for cheap Halloween costumes. We had to find our own way.

Creating visual concepts is great, but building props with your own two hands is even more fulfilling. Finally, this is something tangible. If you are not familiar with the process, it’s a lot of trial and error. But the results are totally worth it. Here’s our step by step DIY tutorial.

The Wizard Staff Prop

We had no prior experience in building movie props. The Wizard Staff was our first project in that regard. However, we already had tons of scribbles when we started, so we knew exactly what we wanted to create.

The first question was, which material we should use. After all, a real staff would be made of wood. But is it really the best material to work with? We quickly found out no, wood wasn’t the answer. It’s heavy, not flexible enough and it would be too complicated to integrate an internal light source for our Magic Crystal. We decided on combining an old lightsaber (or »lasersword« as it’s called nowadays) with a classic broomstick (brand: BlackForest) for the core of our staff, to give it stability.

Building Props: Tutorials to the rescue

We watched all YouTube tutorials on Wizard Staff Making we could find, plus some more from professional prop makers. Video is the best way to learn new skills by imitation. Even though the YouTubers made it look so simple, a lot of our failed attempts went directly into the trash can. But we figured that’s how you learn, by making mistakes.

The main material we ended up using for the surface was the thermoplastic Worbla, any Cosplayer’s dream come true. Make it hot with a heat pistol, and you can bring this stuff into any shape you want. But be careful: These heat pistols are not for children! You can seriously burn yourself, so wear protective gloves.

Ingredients for Building great Props

Here’s our full list of ingredients:

  • A Lightsaber from Ebay, may the Force be with you
  • A Broomstick from the hardware store – real Witches would be proud
  • Hot glue to attach the saber to the broomstick
  • Classic Worbla to create the form of the staff
  • Crystal Worbla to create the Crystal on top (lovingly called »The Eye of Odin« behind the scenes)
  • A few tubes of Acryl Paint, to create the impression of wood
  • An aged piece of leinen cloth for the handle

Nothing beats experimentation

The fact of the matter is, we simply went for it. We tried out new stuff. We experimented. And in the end, it all turned out to be great. We bought way too much Worbla and way too much paint for one staff, but the next Prop is already waiting.

Despite us being happy with what we created, when we were finished, a lot of things remained unclear. Questions we didn’t have answers to:

  • What if the staff was too big for our lead actress?
  • And what about the height of the other actors?
  • Will light from the staff suffice to lighten the actors’ faces?
  • Could the roughness of the design possibly hold up in a 4K projection?

Don’t let these type of questions fool you. It’s good to think about them, but in the end, they don’t matter too much. You’ll find creative solutions for them.

Here are the short answers: It wasn’t, it won’t be, it didn’t (however, we used an additional light to illuminate her face), it holds up perfectly due to the dark setting and the natural suspension of disbelief: If you believe you are holding a Wizard’s Staff, it becomes a Wizard’s Staff. And that’s the way we’ve been approaching this series all along.

Thank you so much for your time! If you like what you’ve read so far, get on board and buy a Black Forest Witch mug. Every Cent of the returns will be put into the production of our pilot episode.

Sven Eric Maier
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