Comments & Notes
In this section, I express personal opinions, and provide information that does not exactly fit into any of the categories on this site. i will also publish any (intelligent) comments I receive from viewers and post a reply if necessary.
Support the Buy American Movement. If we want to revitalize the American economy and grow the American job market, we need to start buying more products produced in the U.S.A. When shopping, please check where items are produced. American products may cost more, but it’s worth it to strengthen the economy. Look for “Made in the U.S.A.” on products you’re thinking of buying, especially larger items like appliances and electronics. Items made in China should be avoided as far as possible – most of the counterfeit products on the market, from handbags to electronics, come from China and are produced in violation of international copyright and patent registrations. The Buy American campaign is particularly critical during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic!
TOYS vs PROPS & PROP-REPLICAS
To some it may only be a matter of semantics, but to a model maker or prop
maker there is a real difference between toys, models, props and prop-replicas. Let’s start at the top with props.
PROPS are any device, usually hand held, used by an actor during a stage performance or filming of a movie. To be called a prop, an item must have actually been used on-screen or on-stage. Many props are common day-to-day items like drinking glasses, a deck of cards, a computer mouse – easily obtained on the retail market and put to use in a show or film. However, unique props like phasers, communicators or other sci-fi creations are also defined by the fact that they are custom made items – made by hand, one at a time, NOT mass-manufactured in a factory somewhere. Depending on a film’s production requirements, real props may be produced in different classes or grades.
HERO class props are designed to be seen by the audience, close up, with crisp clean high-level detailing and some degree of functionality.
MID-GRADE props are made to be seen in the background of a scene; since they aren’t seen closeup, they have less or cruder detailing and generally do not require working features. These are also usually produced in larger numbers than their hero grade counterparts – the lower level of detail allows faster and cheaper production, saving the film studio money.
STUNT props are the lowest quality props. These have minimal detail and are often made of cheaper materials. These props are intended for distant viewing by the audience, where detail won’t be visible, or are used where an actor must throw away the prop or otherwise treat it in a way that could damage or destroy it – no studio’s going to waste a hero grade prop on that!
PROP-REPLICAS are precise copies of on-screen props, usually made for sale to the public, and not actually used on-stage or on-screen. What separates these from models or toys? I’ll let master prop-maker Richard Coyle answer that question with a quote from a letter he sent me along with the Star Trek-III Phaser prop-replica I bought from him several years ago –
“There are a few types of prop recreations. The classic version is made by a professional prop maker, many of whom have worked for TV and film studios. These are made the same way the original props were made, by hand – using scratch-built models and molding of RTV (room temperature curing rubber) cast with polyurethane or pewter to recreate the parts which are then hand assembled and hand painted. These are the closest things to the original film props possible, other than paying high prices for real original props……. As these are hand-made in the same manner as were most props used in TV and film, they are slightly special, each is slightly different from its mate, each a hand-made work of art, a one-of-a-kind. If you’re buying from a real professional prop maker, you are getting as close as you can to touching the real prop. The next type of recreation are the ones offered by big companies, these are very well made, and often have great fit and finish, and each one is an exact match for its mate, as these are mass manufactured 3000 miles from any Hollywood studio. These toys (I do not feel a mass-manufactured die cast item is a prop recreation) sadly have another flaw, that is nearly every one has detail missing or wrong. Accuracy is not top priority. They also lack something of a real prop, they are idealized versions, run through CNC programming and design, so all the little quirks of the real prop are cleaned up or removed. Their models are all homogenized and most often detail is lost. These are often run in large numbers of 2000 to 5000. The (real) prop recreations are made in very small numbers, some never going over 100.“
The reference to mass-manufactured replicas applies to things like Master Replicas versions of Star Trek props.
TOYS are, well, toys. To be a ‘prop replica’ an item must copy / replicate the original prop precisely in size, shape, detail, materials (if possible), and finish. Most toys fail to meet any of these criteria. Toys are copies of props that are made to be played with, and are often ‘kid sized’ which means that they fail to qualify as a prop-replica simply because they are not the same size as the original prop. These are also mass-manufactured in huge numbers and detail is not a priority. Most toys today are made of injection molded plastic, a material / process rarely if ever used in producing real props or prop-replicas. Details on toys are often missing or wrong or do not function as they were intended to on the real prop. Often details are added, like belt-clips on toy phasers, further removing them from being accurate reproductions of the original prop. Accurate color and finish are rarely a priority in toy manufacturing again reducing the resemblance of the toy to the real prop. A good example here is the Playmates TNG Cobra phaser – a great toy phaser, but hardly a prop-replica. The size is almost right, but the painted on ‘power level indicator’ is a bad joke, looking nothing like the on-screen prop, and the ‘beam emitter’ is not only the wrong shape, it’s clear plastic when it should be solid black – totally not a prop-replica. DST / Art-Asylum has come very close to prop-replica quality with their line of Star Trek toys, but these too are still just toys. In size, these toys are very close to being accurate, but again these are mass-manufactured plastic items lacking in detail or getting the details wrong. For example on their TOS Phaser-II, the P-I unit is too small and the power meter is used to change the power settings when that function belongs to the thumb-wheel on the real props. The P-I release pin on the P-II body is also wrong – it’s far too long (s/b about 1/4″) and pulls outward – the release pin on the original props was designed to press in, not pull out.
MODELS – These are mass produced kits that you have to assemble yourself. And here’s where things can get a little fuzzy. For the most part, the term model describes a scale-model which is far smaller than its original prop counterpart (e.g. models of spaceships). However, there are ‘full-scale’ models of some props, like the Pegasus model of the Nebulizer and Vox communicator from Galaxy Quest. A great little kit, well scaled, and well detailed -but is it a prop-replica? Not really, again – mass produced and made of the wrong materials (but close enough to be debatable). Then there’s the great 23rd Century Pistol kit for building a TOS Phaser-II – wow, now here’s one that can cross the line and become a prop-replica. However, to make that transition, many of the parts must be replaced with metal parts (beam emitter housing, heat fins, control dial, side-dial, etc.) and the Phaser-I could do with better detailing around the beam emitter. However, with a bit of work, done by an experienced model maker, this kit can be used to produce an accurate replica (right size, shape, details – color is up to the builder).
So, do me (and all the full-time profession prop and prop-replica makers out there) a favor – the next time you list your Playmates or DST phaser or communicator or tricorder on eBay, don’t call it a prop or a prop-replica. It’s a toy, it always was a toy, it will never be anything but a toy.